Health insurance is offered in all industrialized nations around the world. Europe and the United States have two of the best known approaches to health insurance. While the basic idea of health insurance is the same in the United States and Europe, there are differences in the details of how coverage is applied, cost and overall availability of care. The idea of health insurance is relatively new in terms of world history, dating to 1694. In Europe, a type of universal health care system was a part of social legislation enacted by Otto von Bismarck in Germany in 1883.
Universal health care in Great Britain was initiated by the National Insurance Act of 1911. Today, nearly all of Europe (along with Canada) has a publicly funded or sponsored health care system. The countries comprising the United Kingdom have a system referred to as the National Health Service, referring to the publicly funded health care system available to all UK citizens. Coverage is extended to all citizens in each country with this type of health care system.
Some of the health insurance plans in Europe provide "sick coverage" only, meaning very little or no preventative care. However, most European countries with this type of coverage do allow for the purchase of supplemental insurance. Proponents of public health care have noted the efficiency of the UK system, with requirements in place to handle wait time and other common concerns of national health care. A European Health Insurance Card allows citizens of European Economic Area countries, plus some additional European nations such as Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein, to received health care at a reduced cost.
Supplemental health insurance is the most common type of health insurance in Europe, since universal health care covers most basic needs. Advantages of such a health insurance system include more coverage to a greater number of people and a greater availability of basic care services. Disadvantages include slow treatment and denial of some preventative procedures.
Health insurance in the United States dates to the Civil War and has been a mostly private system. Recent legislation will incorporate some government health insurance options along with already existing coverage options. There are four basic health insurance plans currently available in the United States.