Health · Money & Careers

A Look at Canada’s Single-Payer Health Care

Not so long ago, my half-brother, who lives in Toronto, suffered a twisted bowel.  He was found collapsed in his basement apartment. The emergency responders arrived, stabilized him but needed additional help so they called the fire department to lift him up an outdoor flight of stairs. His case was quickly diagnosed and what followed was a several-hours-long operation followed by ICU care, a hospital stay of two weeks and finally, nursing home care. Daily, specialists visited. After the ordeal, all the family was required to pay was a TV rental fee.

There was never a question about money; his recovery was the sole concern. Pre-existing condition or not, did not matter.

Canadian health care is a single-payer system, which means that while the insurance is publicly financed and costs are controlled, both hospitals and doctors function privately. Canadian national health insurance ensures that all residents of Canada have access to medically necessary care on a pre-paid basis. (Those seeking tattoo removal or cosmetic surgery have to pay on their own.) Each province or territory determines its share of the cost; some provinces, like Alberta and British Columbia, finance premiums through sales and payroll tax, but no resident is denied coverage because of inability to pay insurance premiums. And the Canadian government regulates drug prices to ensure that its residents are not gouged when purchasing prescriptions.

Another advantage to this single payer system is that Canadians don’t require attorneys to deny health coverage, nor do they have to pay actuaries to set premiums. The result? According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information site, Canada spends around 11 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on health care, much lower than many countries. With a single payer system, suppliers aren’t able to charge as much, and the difference goes to services for patients, not administrative costs.

Canadians enjoy free choice of physicians; they are not restricted by specific health care plans.  And all Canadians enjoy health care; no one goes without, no one is bankrupted by health-care bills.

No Canadian resident clings to a soul-denying job to ensure his or her family is insured. No Canadian resident frets that if she loses employment that she’ll be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. In Canada, a patient’s access to health care is based upon need, not upon one’s ability to pay, thus avoiding psychological trauma and worry.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. January 31, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the comment/request. The author of the post wrote about her personal and family experience with the Canadian Health Care system. I suggest that you ask an actuary or someone in the US health insurance business for answers to your thoughtful question.
    Dr. Pat

    • Sean Siple March 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      This overview is concise and helpful. This is a foundational decision we could make that will reduce the cost and expand choice for all Americans.

  • Jean Hanna January 31, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I would like to see a side by side chart comparing the costs for the canadians taxes for health care with the costs of premiums, deductibles and taxes for people in the US