By James W.D. Watson Jr.
The new “Better Life Index” to be released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on June 20 makes for good reading. In fact, the findings are so encouraging that, if we had to guess, I’d say that Canadians will soon realize we’re as healthy as almost any of the other developed countries in the world. As a result, they’ll benefit from higher standard of living and a real choice of paying either more for health care or enjoying more.
Some Canadians will protest this development and will say Canada doesn’t deserve such high rankings because our health system is so inefficient. Some will even talk about rationing health care.
But such a claim would be impossibly offensive to the millions of Canadians who have benefited from a truly free health system and who understand that paying for health care is an entirely legitimate, and in many cases a responsible, expense.
In fact, Canadians have much to be proud of regarding the way they pay for their health care. We have elected to redirect our federal taxes to provincial and municipal governments to pay for all levels of health care coverage, a system called medicare. We now pay for all national health care through standard of living taxes, and our health care spending is rapidly climbing due to the availability of pharmaceutical and medical breakthroughs.
Finally, in Ontario, where I live, the mandatory health care consumption tax—which has always been called the “health tax”—has been indexed to increase at the rate of inflation so that medical costs should be rising even faster.
For more on how this rate of inflation actually works, consult Health Costs Onto Your Taxes.
Despite these fine achievements, Canada’s health care system has weaknesses and we have almost no control over how the system is delivered. When the next Better Life Index is released in around 2025, it’s likely that Canadians will find the same and probably better results.
The situation in the United States is much different because the United States has both a state-based health care system and a national system, providing consumers with clear choices and a real opportunity to obtain quality health care for very little money.
This means that Canadians will not have a choice about paying extra to get more access to health care. This can only lead to more expensive health care, and likely higher taxes, because more and more Americans will simply go without care.
What would it take to make Canada the best country in the world in health? Its share of the world population is only 34 percent. By 2050, Canada will have a higher share of the world population than even the United States, at 47 percent.
If America is to catch up, it needs to concentrate on improving access to quality care. We need a medical system where even the most vulnerable Americans can obtain important medical care at significantly lower cost than in Canada.
Medicare has worked well in Canada, and if we replicated this success, we would have lower health care costs in Canada.
In fact, our political leaders should start now to draw on Canada’s experience by building new health care systems that cost less and are accessible to all. Their task will be complicated, but the national standard of living tax principles clearly guide any successful implementation.
Jim Watson Jr. is the mayor of Ottawa, Canada.