Journalist and educator Trudy Lieberman recently published an editorial with Huffington Post wherein she characterizes the American and Canadian healthcare systems as being far more similar than many Americans, particularly those looking for continued improvements in the American healthcare landscape, want to believe. While on the macro scale Lieberman’s points hold up to scrutiny, tightening down the wheel and taking a closer look at the different healthcare environments in the neighboring North American countries reveals that Canada is still light-years ahead of the United States.
The Biggest Differences? Wait Times, Cost
As Lieberman herself points out, there is a huge disparity between the costs of healthcare in the U.S. and those in the Great White North. On average, the United States spends $8,500 per capita, compared to Canada’s $4,500. While that might not seem like much when you’re looking only at the dollar signs, this translates to American citizens paying approximately 50% more of national income than their Canadian counterparts.
While the American price-tag for healthcare is expected to be tempered somewhat over the coming years by the Affordable Care Act, the fact is that Americans have very few options other than spending a huge chunk of their income just to stay healthy. Beyond Canadian provincial healthcare, long considered to be a great model to emulate in order to bring down costs, Canadian’s have access to a number of plans that serve citizens, not the healthcare industry and big business. The Trillium Plan, for example, only subjects Canadian citizens to a charge not exceeding 4% of family income for expensive drug treatments, leaving the single-payer health system to pick up the rest. In short, Canada seems a much more patient friendly place to be than the States.
In her piece for the Post, Ms. Lieberman made a point of saying that since both America and Canada have had reports of significant wait times for care, that they are both equally problematic. However, here again, the macro picture is painted disingenuously. As a study from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) shows, Canada is certainly not immune to incredibly long wait times. However, they are the exception to the rule. Studies as recent as 2011 have shown that wait times in the United States for emergency care have reached as high as four and a half hours on a regular basis.
All of this to say that there is a reason the World Health Organization ranks Canada at number 30 among the best health systems in the world, while the U.S. sits at 37. While both systems are far from perfect and could sorely use a lesson or two from France and Italy, it’s the United States that ultimately loses this race.