by Sally Pipes • RealClearPolitics
The New York State Assembly may soon consider legislation that would switch the Empire State to a Canadian-style single-payer system. Maine has expressed interest in doing the same.
So has Congress. Earlier this year, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to create government-run insurance programs in every Obamacare exchange.
Our northern neighbor’s admirers should consult its history. Nearly fifty years ago, Canada charged a youthful chief executive with a massive overhaul of its healthcare system — just as the United States has today. Canada now has a half-century of proof that government-dominated healthcare systems force patients to wait interminably long times for subpar treatment.
Canada’s path to single payer began soon after World War II, when Premier Tommy Douglas introduced free hospital care in Saskatchewan. By 1962, the province was providing universal coverage for physician services, too.
In 2004, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation named Douglas “The Greatest Canadian,” thanks largely to his role in socializing the Canadian healthcare system.
Socialized medicine went nationwide in 1966, with the passage of the Medical Care Act. Implementation of the single-payer scheme fell to Pierre Trudeau, the newly elected Prime Minister in 1968.
Trudeau campaigned on the promise of installing a “just society.” Enthusiasm among Canada’s youth propelled Trudeau into office with the first electoral majority of the 1960s. Observers dubbed the phenomenon “Trudeaumania.”
Sound familiar? Trudeau was Canada’s Barack Obama.
Like Trudeau, Obama rode a wave of young support — Obamamania — to power. Sixty-six percent of those under the age of 30 voted for Obama in 2008.
And like Trudeau, Obama is a fan of single-payer. During his 2008 campaign, Obama said, “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.” In 2003, he flatly stated, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.”
Obama wasn’t able to sell single-payer to a skeptical American public. But that hasn’t stopped him from returning to the idea. In a recent interview, the president noted that allowing private insurers, Medicaid, and Medicaid to join up “makes a lot of sense.”
He was essentially advocating for an “all-payer system,” under which insurers would band together to negotiate prices with healthcare providers. It’s single-payer by another name.
As Canada’s decades-long experience shows, single-payer by any name fails patients.
I was born in Canada and have seen single-payer lead to rationing and outright rejection of care. My mother died of colon cancer after being denied an early colonoscopy that could have identified the disease at a more treatable stage.
Her experience is not unique. The Health Council of Canada recently reported that Canada’s wait times for receiving health care ranked last on a list of 11 developed countries. The country faces a shortage of family doctors, so almost half of Canadians have to go to the emergency room for basic health needs. Even then, 26 percent wait four or more hours to see a doctor in the ER.
Not even Canadians with major health issues get the care they need. The average Canadian waits 4.5 months for major procedures, such as neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery. Waits for MRI tests average more than eight weeks.
Canadians don’t trust their system. Seventy-eight percent of residents older than 45 fear they won’t be able to receive timely care. Eighty-one percent expect the care they receive to be of low quality.
Even Dr. Claude Castonguay, the father of Quebec’s government-run healthcare system, has concluded that Canada is in crisis. “We thought we could resolve the system’s problems by rationing services or injecting massive amounts of new money into it,” he said in 2008.
His prescription? “We are proposing to give a greater role to the private sector so that people can exercise freedom of choice.”
Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made strides toward reinvigorating his country’s economy but has done nothing to change its failing healthcare system. Perhaps it is just too monumental a task to undertake.
There’s a lesson in there for the United States — once the government takes over the healthcare system, it’s nearly impossible to undo the damage. That’s why U.S. lawmakers must repeal and replace Obamacare sooner rather than later.
Canada proves that single-payer health care inevitably results in rationing and lost lives. Government-run health care is one Canadian import we should turn away.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The Cure for Obamacare (Encounter 2013).