Reject the Canadian Health-Care Model

By Harrop, Froma | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Reject the Canadian Health-Care Model


Harrop, Froma, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


If you want to sell Americans on universal health coverage it's not helpful to use a model that makes patients wait five weeks to see a cancer doctor. That's Canada.

There is much to admire in the Canadian system. It covers everyone, while spending only 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product on health care. (The United States spends 16 percent.) It is simple and doesn't burden employers with the job of insuring workers and their kin.

The flaws, however, are unacceptable.

Many of my left-leaning friends nonetheless worship at the altar of "Canadian-style single-payer." (I once belonged to the cult.) That's too bad because there are better universal-access systems to parade through a PowerPoint presentation. A health-care system that tolerates an average 10-week wait to use an MRI machine is not to be copied.

The Fraser Institute in Vancouver recently compared Canada's health-care system to about two dozen others -- and found Canada's highly wanting. Yes, the Fraser Institute has an agenda: It promotes privatization and in the Canadian context is economically conservative. But its analyses of Canadian health care are sophisticated and honest. Unlike many conservatives in this country, Fraser starts with the premise that universal coverage would be a basic requirement of a modern health-care system.

The enduring mystique of the Canadian system surprises Michael Walker, Fraser's founder and co-author of "How Good Is Canadian Health Care: An International Comparison of Health Care Systems." Even some people who have studied it, Walker told me, cling to "the mythology rather than the reality."

The report leaves out the United States because it does not offer government-guaranteed health care. But for Americans trying to create a rational and humane health-care system, a discussion of Canada's shortcomings offers some useful not-to-dos:

First off, don't go the single-payer route, where the government picks up all the bills. …

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