Canada Does Not Need A US Style Health Care System


By Harinder Mahil

Dr. Brian Day, who runs a well known private health care clinic in Vancouver, wrote an opinion article in the Vancouver Sun on July 24, 2012 in which he complained about waiting lines facing BC residents in the public medical system. He suggested that BC residents would benefit greatly from a public-private medical system. He also suggested that BC residents should have the right to pay for health care. His article suggests that he really would like to see a US style health care system in Canada.

Every now and then we all complain about our health care system. We complain about having to wait to see a specialist or having to wait 2-3 hours in an emergency room. We do so because we like the system and would like to improve it. We also know that when we really need it the system is there and it works quite well.

There was one occasion when I was hospitalized in Surrey for a short period of time. I was highly impressed by the professionalism of the health care staff and the treatment I received.

I am getting to an age when serious illnesses are increasing among my friends and colleagues. All the people I know who have needed health care in Canada because of serious illnesses have been grateful for the quality of the treatment they receive. Because our health care is funded through taxes and not through direct payment by users, we are able to focus on getting healthy and not on how we are going to pay for it.

I often read about the health care system in the United States where the number of people who lacked health insurance last year climbed to over 50 million. A millionaire in the US can walk into a hospital and demand all kinds of services. He or she is able to have any test or operation the same day. However, a person with limited resources would not have the same luxury and would not be able to get any treatment because he or she does not have the money to pay to a health care provider.

It is not uncommon to read about a senior in the United States who has worked all his life and saved for retirement having to declare bankruptcy in old age because he spent all of his money because of a serious illness.

Private health insurers in the US have rigged the game. They only want to insure the young and healthy. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to deny coverage to a person with a medical condition or a disease. They increase premiums for older Americans to the point where they cannot afford to pay for it.

Do we want the same type of system in Canada?  Definitely not.

It is certainly true that we pay higher taxes in Canada because our health care system is funded through our taxes. It is also true that we all receive quality health care regardless of our income or our tax rate. Most Canadians prefer this arrangement.

This does not mean that our health care system is perfect. It is not.  The costs of delivering a universal system are high and our aging population poses significant challenges to the current model. So far, governments have been reluctant to implement changes to the system precisely because it is so popular.

We definitely do not want a US style health care system in Canada. Private health system in the US is a for profit system. The very nature of private health system is contrary to good public policy.

Harinder Mahil is a human rights activist and is a board member of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation.