Private health care refers to any type of health insurance or treatment that patients pay for themselves. It is the opposite of public health care, which is available to a wide spectrum of the general public and uses government subsidies to control and reduce costs. While both systems have their own drawbacks, private health care has advantages that benefit many individuals.
In countries that offer free public health care, like the United Kingdom and Canada, individuals may choose to take advantage of private health care to receive treatment more quickly. Public health services can become overwhelmed with demand, leading to long waits to see specialists and long lines at doctors' offices and public clinics. Going to a private health care provider is one way to access a doctor more quickly, though only at an additional cost.
Unlike public health care systems that receive government support, private health care is an open market where health care providers compete for customers. Besides keeping true to a capitalist economic theory, this forces the health care providers to take steps, such as lowering prices or providing better services, to remain profitable. Health care providers that fail to provide services that customers want will fail, leaving only the best health care providers for people to choose from.
When patients have a choice of public and private health care, the private option generally includes more types of treatment and service. For example, the U.K.'s National Health Service does not offer nursing care or intensive care. Private health care providers do supply these services, leading some patients to choose private health care only for additional services not included in the public option.
One key economic advantage of private health care is that it is entirely self-financed, requiring no government grants or start-up loans. Instead, individual health care providers issue stock and secure investors to go into business. The enormous cost of health care is distributed among the health care providers and, indirectly, their customers, rather than the entire tax base as is the case in a publicly financed system.