False Comparisons Don't Serve Health-Care Analysis

By Meili, Ryan | Winnipeg Free Press, July 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

False Comparisons Don't Serve Health-Care Analysis


Meili, Ryan, Winnipeg Free Press


Canada's health-care system faced some provocative comparisons recently.

First was Sarah Boston's new book, Lucky Dog, in which she details her personal experience with thyroid cancer and navigating the Canadian health system. Boston, a veterinary oncologist, claims that Canadian dogs often have better access to health care than their human counterparts.

The next round of comparisons came from the Commonwealth Fund's annual report analyzing 11 national health-care systems. In line with their previous rankings, Canada appears to have underperformed, and the Netherlands comes out on top. This report cued the oft-repeated calls for Canada to embrace the free-market reforms that the Dutch and other European healthy systems have undertaken.

So should Canadian health care go Dutch or to the dogs? Neither.

Here's the problem with Boston's veterinary comparison and those who would convince us that private, for-profit care is the answer to all that ails medicare: All dogs may go to heaven, but they certainly don't all see the vet first. Veterinary care may be high quality and quickly accessed by those who can afford it, but it's far from universal. In interviews, Boston acknowledges that she has witnessed clients re-mortgaging their houses to pay for their dogs' cancer treatments.

When care gets too difficult or expensive for a cat or dog, many pet owners are faced with the option of having the animal put down. In Canada, we are fortunate that our universal health insurance means people don't have to make choices between their homes or livelihoods and their lives.

While the problems with comparing Canadian health care to veterinary services are rather apparent, understanding why we cannot simply copy and paste a European health-care system requires more careful consideration. Health-care systems don't exist in a vacuum: their structures, funding models and usages are all informed by the nation they serve and other policies these countries adopt.

European countries that spend more money on social programs such as affordable housing, education and senior care consistently have better health outcomes than countries that are slashing these budgets. Why? Research estimates access to health care accounts for only 25 per cent of health outcomes: the rest is largely determined by income, employment, education, housing, food security and other social and economic factors. …

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