Health care statistics tell real story : Canada and the United States

Jul 27th, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
Canadian health care has more nurses

Canadian health care has more nurses

As the Canadian newspapers report, “the Canadian health-care system is coming under increased scrutiny south of the border,” as President Barack Obama and the US Congress struggle to “reform the US system.”

A recent letter to the editor of the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, from a US resident, does a nice job of summarizing what probably most Canadians feel about the issue: “My husband and I have several friends who live in Canada. Although they agree that their system is not perfect, they all agree that they would never trade places with us and our system.”

A quick look at World Health Statistics 2009, from the World Health Organization, fleshes this opinion out. On this reading Canada’s current “single payer public” system is technically not much different from the current US “privately insured” system. But it is cheaper, more accessible for the average person, and much less of an economic drag on private business. And on balance it does give somewhat better actual health results. Consider, e.g., four key sets of numbers:

(1) Life expectancy at birth 2007: CANADA — Male 78 years, Female 83, Both sexes 81; USA — Male 76 years, Female 81, Both sexes 78.
(2) Births attended by skilled health personnel 2000-2008 : CANADA — 100%; USA  — 99%.
(3) Access to improved drinking water 2006 : CANADA — 100%; USA —  99%.
(4) Total health expenditure as % Gross Domestic Product  2006: CANADA — 10.0% (up from 8.8% 2000); USA — 15.3% (up from 13.2% 2000).

It is certainly true that each current system has its own strengths and weaknesses. Between 2000 and 2007, e.g., per 10,000 population Canada had 19 physicians, 101 nurses and other para-professionals, and 12 dentists. The US had 26 physicians, 94 nurses and other para-professionals, and 16 dentists.

Finally, in terms of the current mix between government and private health expenditures as a percentage of total health expenditures, the difference between the two systems is in fact much more modest than you might guess watching FOX News (er Noise) in the United States. In Canada in 2006 government accounted for 70.4% of total health expenditures and the private sector for 29.6%. In the United States government accounted for 45.8%, and the private sector for 54.2%. (If this is the difference between”capitalism” and “socialism” in North America today, both J.P. Morgan and Karl Marx really must be rolling in their graves!)

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