Lieberman recently returned from a monthlong visit to Canada as a Fulbright Senior Specialist. She lectured on the American health care system and learned much about how Canadians get their medical care. She interviewed hospital executives, physicians, academic experts, former health ministers, reporters covering health care, and ordinary citizens. Lieberman also toured hospitals and long-term care facilities. This is the second of four posts reporting on that visit. Previously, Lieberman explained misconceptions that Canadians have about the U.S. health care system and the differences in the two systems.
Both countries are historically and practically steeped in fee-for-service medicine, and much of the power to control prices rests in the hands of the medical establishment. While provincial governments have periodic negotiations with medical and hospital groups, and there are global budgets for hospitals that try to constrain costs, the system is relatively expensive.
In 2011, the U.S. won the dubious honor of having the most expensive system in the world, spending about $8,500 per capita. Canada spent about $4,500, making it the third most expensive country among a group of OECD-developed nations.
Still, that number needs perspective. In 1970, a few years before Canada implemented its national health insurance system, both countries were spending about 7 percent of the GDP on health care. Thirty-nine years later the U.S. was spending 50 percent more of its national income on health care, leaving its patients with the highest out-of-pocket expenses in the world. When I explained the high out-of-pocket expenses to Canadians, that notion simply did not compute. There is some talk about imposing copays for some services as a way to help both the federal and provincial governments save money. But the idea of making people pay 50 percent of a bill or a family paying $13,000 out of pocket before insurance benefits kick in is wildly unpopular. Continue reading