U.S. Favors Canadian Health Care System

By Freudenheim, Milt | THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 19, 1990 | Go to article overview

U.S. Favors Canadian Health Care System


Freudenheim, Milt, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Most Americans say they would gladly exchange their health-care system for one in Canada, which is entirely financed by the government.

Surveys by The Los Angeles Times in March, NBC last year and Louis Harris & Associates in 1988 all showed that majorities of at least 61 percent of those polled favored a comprehensive national health plan.

In the Harris poll, respondents chose the Canadian way in preference to both the American approach and the British system of government-controlled doctors and hospitals. The choice in The Los Angeles Times poll was between the American and Canadian systems only.

Canadians go to their own doctors, who practice independently but are all in the system. All medical bills are paid with tax money.

The surveys worry employers and insurers. Many employers believe that higher taxes would outweigh their savings under a Canadian-style system (although American auto makers with plants in Canada have not found this to be so). And health insurers fear that their business would be decimated if the government took over.

But health-insurance experts say the Canadian system is not really the issue and that most Americans know little about either its strengths or its weaknesses.

``The issue is financial insecurity,'' said Robert J. Blendon, chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Even people who have health insurance worry that their coverage may be cut back or eliminated and that they may be unable to afford medical care, he said in an interview. Americans pay 26 percent, on average, of their own health-care bills. At least 16 percent do not have either private or government insurance.

``When a lot of people think about health care, they see a dollar sign, they see risk, they see catastrophic danger,'' said John Erb, a managing consultant in New York with Foster Higgins, an employee benefits consulting firm.

In a new study of the public's feelings about health care, Blendon, along with Robert Leitman, a senior vice president with Harris; Ian Morrison, an economist with the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., and Karen Donelan, a Harvard research associate, looked at 10 countries.

They found that the degree of satisfaction with the system was highest in Canada, followed by the Netherlands, West Germany, France, Australia, Sweden, Japan, Britain and Italy. Satisfaction was lowest in the United States.

The United States and South Africa are the only major industrial countries that do not have government-paid health-care systems.

But the low approval rating and widespread preference for Canada's system did not mean that Americans were dissatisfied with their doctors and hospitals, or even that they believed national spending on health care was too high, the researchers said. …

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