Health Care: The National Health Insurance Model

Part four in a six part series covering health care systems around the world

The name of Canada’s health care system has been one of the most abused and misconstrued of any other country throughout the recent debates surrounding health care reform in the US. They are often invoked as the country that embodies socialism and long waits.

While yes, Canada does favor policies that are more “socialist” than America, and yes, there may be longer waits for some services, this picture is too much of a generalization for a system that has been around since the early 1960s and was voted in by an overwhelming majority of the Canadian parliament.

The model of health care that Canada uses is the National Health Insurance model. This system is also used by other countries such as Cuba. This model borrows aspects of both the Bismarck model and the Beveridge model, both of which were covered in this series in previous editions of the Torch.

Thomas Clement Douglas was the man who first brought the idea of universal coverage to Canada. He had a knee injury as a child, and when his financially troubled family moved from Scotland to Canada, the only reason he was able to receive surgery for his bothered knee was because he happened to have the offer of being a subject of an experimental surgical technique.

This procedure was a success, but Douglas was worried by the fact that at that time only a wealthy person could get such a surgery and many families were left out. He wanted to make sure that everyone had equal access to health care. He perceived healthcare to be a necessity to life regardless of class or age or income.

This idea was fleshed out into a government program in Saskatchewan, which was so successful that the rest of the country demanded the same. The basics of the system are that it is funded through tax payer money and any citizen can walk in to receive service without paying a bill at the end.

The five main points included in the Canadian Health Act of 1984 include public administration (not-for-profit), comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility. This free service only counts for “medically necessary” services. Private insurance, which is optional and very cheap and often covered by employers, covers things such as private hospital rooms, prescriptions and child birth classes, among others.

On the doctor’s side of things, there is an expected difference from America’s system. A family doctor in Canada will generally make about half as much as an American one would. An example cited in T.R. Reid’s “The Healing of America” shows a Canadian doctor who is still able to drive a BMW and belong to a country club. While they may not hold quite as high of a status as in the U.S., they seem to still live an above-average lifestyle.

The paradox in comparing our system with that of our friends to the north is that while they have a completely government run system, they still spend far less than we do.

This type of approach to health care is foreign idea to Americans. We do not live this kind of lifestyle. Americans are staunch individualists who do not have the same sense of responsibility over their fellow citizens that many other countries do.

The underlying argument that I have made throughout this series of articles is that America should be able to make some type of effective reform to use our money that is already put toward health care more efficiently. I don’t think that a single payer system will be accepted by most Americans, but a majority has spoken out in favor of reform.

We need to get past petty arguments and misconceptions of international systems so that we can remain individualists, but still provide health care (public or private) for every American.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series, to view the rest of the articles, visit the links below:

  1. The Health Care Debate
  2. Health Care: The Bismarck Model
  3. The Beveridge Model of Health Care