American vs. Canadian Health Care

, Evan Sumortin, Leave a comment

Canada is frequently referenced as a shining example of a government-run health care system. On July 15th, at the CATO Institute, Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute disagreed with this assessment and debunked several of the arguments used by proponents of a government-run system. As a Canadian herself, she provided a deep insight into the misrepresentation of comparisons between the American and Canadian health care systems and warned of the consequences of government-run health care that Canada is currently experiencing.

Pipes first established the two differing visions of health care: “One is based on patient-centered solutions by empowering patients and doctors and encouraging innovations in pharmaceuticals and medical device. The other is to increase the role of government in our health care. Unfortunately, the [latter] vision is the vision that is on the rise in America today—a ‘Medicare for all’ vision.”

“We can all agree,” she continued, “that we want affordable, accessible, and quality health care for all Americans. That is our goal. The question is: How do we reach that goal?” According to Pipes, a government-run system would put us further from said goal.

Pipes goes on to rebut the myth that universal systems, such as those in Canada or Britain, are cheaper and more efficient. She starts by citing Michael Moore’s most recent film Sicko, in which he idealizes the Canadian health care system and claims that countries like Britain, Canada, and Cuba have “free” health care. “These programs are not free and they are paid for by taxes and they end up with people being denied care,” she argued.

The United States currently spends 16 percent of its GDP on health care, which proponents of a government-run system claim is too much. Comparatively, Canada only spends 10 percent of its GDP on health care. This statistic is often used as infallible proof that a government-run system is both cheaper and more efficient.

To the contrary, the fact that Canada only uses 10 percent of its GDP is exactly why they experience all of the qualitative and quantitative consequences that come with shortages. The Canadian government took over health care in the 1970s but, “what they didn’t realize is that when people think something is free they demand more of it. As a result, they couldn’t afford it,” argued Pipes. This led to the strict government budgeting of 10 percent of the GDP towards health care. No more, no less. Consequently, Canadians have long waiting lists for health care, are rationed or denied care, and lack of access to the latest technology.

Pipes cites several facts that have been largely ignored by the media and proponents of a government-run system:

• “750,000 are on a waiting list for a procedure” out of 33 million Canadians.

• “17 percent (or 5 million) are waiting to get a primary doctor…When you hear on the front page of the New York Times that we can reduce costs by having more primary care doctors …I can tell you that in Canada very few people go into primary care because they are the lowest paid doctor on the totem pole.” In 2006, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD), Canada ranked 26th out of 30 countries surveyed in doctors per thousand people.

• “The average wait today in Canada from seeing a primary care doctor to getting treatment by a specialist is over 4 months.”

• “Canada ranks 14th out of 25 countries in MRI machines and 19th in access to CT scanners according to the OECD.” As a result, it takes an average of 10 weeks to gain access to an MRI just to find out what the problem is.

“Access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” Pipes asserted.

Pipes concluded her talk by describing America as an “escape valve” for Canadians to use when their medical care system fails them. She also notes that “most of the medical device and pharmaceuticals are developed in [America], they are not developed in France Canada, or England.” If the American system completely transforms into a government-run system with long lines, rationed care, decreased quality, and decreased technological advancement where will we escape to?

Evan Sumortin is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.