As a policy analyst, I know there are lessons to be learned from studying the effect of different approaches in similar jurisdictions. But, as a Canadian with lots of American friends and relatives, I am saddened that Americans seem incapable of learning them. . .
On coverage, all Canadians have insurance for hospital and physician services. There are no deductibles or co-pays. Most provinces also provide coverage for programs for home care, long-term care, pharmaceuticals and durable medical equipment, although there are co-pays.
On the U.S. side, 46 million people have no insurance, millions are underinsured and health care bills bankrupt more than 1 million Americans every year. . .
On costs, Canada spends 10 percent of its economy on health care; the U.S. spends 16 percent. The extra 6 percent of GDP amounts to more than $800 billion per year. The spending gap between the two nations is almost entirely because of higher overhead. Canadians don't need thousands of actuaries to set premiums or thousands of lawyers to deny care. Even the U.S. Medicare program has 80 percent to 90 percent lower administrative costs than private Medicare Advantage policies. And providers and suppliers can't charge as much when they have to deal with a single payer. . .
Because most of the difference in spending is for nonpatient care, Canadians actually get more of most services. We see the doctor more often and take more drugs. We even have more lung-transplant surgery. We do get less heart surgery, but not so much less that we are any more likely to die of heart attacks. And we now live nearly three years longer, and our infant mortality is 20 percent lower. . .
The Canadian system does have its problems, and these also provide important lessons. Notwithstanding a few well-publicized and misleading cases, Canadians needing urgent care get immediate treatment. But we do wait too long for much elective care, including appointments with family doctors and specialists and selected surgical procedures. We also do a poor job managing chronic disease.
However, according to the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, both the American and the Canadian systems fare badly in these areas. . .
Canadian health care delivery problems have nothing to do with our single-payer system and can be fixed by re-engineering for quality.
U.S. health policy would be miles ahead if policymakers could learn these lessons. But they seem less interested in Canada's, or any other nation's, experience than ever. Why?
American democracy runs on money. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies have the fuel. Analysts see hundreds of billions of premiums wasted on overhead that could fund care for the uninsured. But industry executives and shareholders see bonuses and dividends.
Compounding the confusion is traditional American ignorance of what happens north of the border, which makes it easy to mislead people. Boilerplate antigovernment rhetoric does the same. The U.S. media, legislators and even presidents have claimed that our "socialized" system doesn't let us choose our own doctors. In fact, Canadians have free choice of physicians. It's Americans these days who are restricted to "in-plan" doctors.
Unfortunately, many Americans won't get to hear the straight goods because vested interests are promoting a caricature of the Canadian experience.