Can the Private Sector Solve Canada’s Health Care Problems?

I found this nifty interactive research tool at the World Health Organisation website:

This gigantic statistical database allows you to assemble a table of health care standards and expenses by country, using the countries, indicators and years of your choosing. It’s pretty buggy but I’ve discovered it’s useful for winning arguments against those who advocate the privatisation of health care.

Like, for example, the number one fanboy of the American way of doing absolutely everything, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen “It’s past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act” Harper.

The number one argument for the health care privatisation movement in Canada is: “the private sector is more innovative, cost-effective, fiscally responsible and efficient than the public sector”. (The number one method of establishing the factuality of this theory is repeating it over and over and over again ad infinitum until even people who generally consider themselves “critical thinkers” suddenly hear it coming out their own mouths.)

But is it? Is it really? Thanks to this WHO database we can have a look at the cost-effectiveness, fiscal responsibility and efficiency of our universal health care system and the American system Harper’s Conservatives covet so hungrily, side by side.

The following statistics are from 2005, which is the most recent year for which this data appears to be available:

Government expenditure on health as a percentage of total health expenditure:
Canada: 70.2% United States 45.1%

Hospital beds per 10,000 population:
Canada: 34 United States: 32

Infant Mortality rate per 1000 population:
Canada: 5 United States: 7

Maternal Mortality per 100,000 live births:
Canada: 7 United States: 11

Per capita total (government + private) expenditure on health:
Canada: $3463 United States: $6347

Life expectancy at birth:
Canada: 81 United States: 78

I was sitting around reflecting upon how absurd it is that Americans pay more than double what Canadians pay for their health care, receive worse care, die three years sooner, and ferociously argue against universal health care using Canada as a symbol of its dangers, when something very interesting jumped out at me.

I never realised the US government pays for ANY health care, let alone 45% of total health care expenditures. I thought, due to my leftist prejudice, that the government just left sick people completely at the mercy of the private sector. So for a moment I was pretty impressed. But then math kicked in again, just as it did when I was contemplating Labour’s welfare reform plans.

70.2% of $3463 is $2431.03
45.1% of $6347 is $2862.50

What does this mean?

The US government already spends $431.47 more per capita on health care than the Canadian government.

So Americans are actually paying more through their taxes for health care, and then paying that much again (and then some) out of their own pockets, and still receiving worse care than Canadians. On top of it all they are regularly bankrupted by medical expenses.

That surprised me so much I checked it three times. Then I had my genius boyfriend check it too. Conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to question the assumption that, whatever the faults of the American health care system, at least it’s cheaper for taxpayers.

But, unless the WHO database is so buggy it’s giving me false statistical information, that’s the how it is:

Americans shoulder a heavier tax burden for health care than Canadians.

So much for the efficiency, effectiveness and fiscal responsibility of the private sector in providing health care, eh?