Health Care in Canada, the United States: Learning from Each Other

Point of View by Ken Crist, program associate, Canada Institute Centerpoint, June 2008

Jun 02, 2008

Reforming medical care remains a prominent issue in both Canada and the United States, as both countries face daunting challenges to their health care systems. In the United States, tens of millions of Americans remain uninsured or underinsured and face rising costs of care. Meanwhile, Canada's vaunted public health care system has continued to struggle with rising health care costs as well, in addition to long waiting times for specific types of treatment, and Canadians are losing faith in their government's ability to sustain an effective health care system.

Standard thinking on both sides of the border tends to hold that, because the Canadian and U.S. health care systems are vastly different, neither country has anything to offer from a comparative perspective to address challenges in their respective health sectors. Yet, a central theme that emerged from a recent Canada Institute conference on health reform is that both countries can benefit from looking at the experiences of their neighbor to address their own health care issues.

For example, Canada's struggle to find enough public revenue to sustain its health care system has led some to consider introducing private health care to supplement the country's public system. In this case, it would be prudent for Canada to consider the U.S. experience with private health care to better understand the potential risks and benefits such a course of action might entail. Similarly, plans to implement universal health coverage in the United States may have a better chance of succeeding if Americans considered how and why Canada implemented its own public health care system.

Canadians and Americans should accept that two countries sharing so much culturally, economically, and ideologically may have something to offer each other when discussing health reform. Examining each other's health care system does not necessarily mean adopting the policies and practices of their neighbor, but it could lead officials on both sides of the border to make more informed decisions when considering private and public funding options.

Health care reform is simply too important an issue to eliminate ideas and policy options before taking the time to consider fully whether they have potential to address the problems currently facing Canada's and the U.S. health sectors.

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