While Americans pine for ‘Medicare for all,’ Canadians look for US-style private insurance – Pacific Research Institute

While Americans pine for ‘Medicare for all,’ Canadians look for US-style private insurance


About 56% of people in the United States favor “Medicare for all,” according to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation out last week. That’s an increase of 3 percentage points from last November.

That majority would be wise to take a look across our northern border. Waits for care in Canada’s government-run health insurance system, the closest analog to “Medicare for all” in the world, are spiraling. The remedy for those waits, according to a new report from the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute? A dose of U.S.-style private insurance.

Right now, Canada is the only high-income country with universal health coverage that bans its citizens from purchasing private insurance for anything deemed “medically necessary.” “Medicare for all” would make the U.S. the second.

Supporters of the ban claim it preserves equitable access to care. Wealthy Canadians can’t use private insurance to pay for faster access to care.

But as a result, everyone must wait their turn for care paid for by the public system. Last year, Canadians faced a median wait of nearly 21 weeks to receive specialist treatment after getting referred by a general practitioner. Certain procedures come with longer waits. End-to-end, patients waited a median of 39 weeks for orthopedic surgery in 2019.

Private insurance could alleviate those waits. The Fraser Institute’s research concludes that those using private insurance in other countries demand less care under the publicly funded coverage scheme. That frees up resources to treat needier patients, who must rely exclusively on public insurance. The result, per the new Fraser report? “A private health insurance market in Canada would reduce wait times for most, if not all, Canadians.”

As Canada shows, government-provided universal coverage, and its ban on private insurance, isn’t worth the wait.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All, (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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