Single-payer health care—an approach used in Canada and in 28 other industrialized countries—means that care is delivered by the private sector but paid for from a publicly administered trust fund. Like so many other issues in the United States, the single-payer approach has become a political football that each side has repeatedly kicked beyond recognition. Advocates have set it up as a miracle cure for America’s health-care ills. Opponents have demonized it to the point single-payer health care seems more the cause of disease instead of the cure.
As an American transplanted into the Canadian health-care system, I have experienced the fallacies and truths of both positions. As you might expect, the reality is more nuanced than the sound bites either side would have you believe. Below are some of the myths about single-payer health care offered by opponents of the system, along with a dose of reality from north of the border.
Myth 1) Single-payer health care is more expensive. Compared to what? About 40 percent more per capita is already spent in the United States on health care than in other industrialized countries (most of which have some form of universal health care). In fact, other countries with single-payer health care spend 50 to 100 percent less on administrative costs for health care.
Myth 2) It would raise taxes. Single-payer health care would likely bring some higher taxes for many Americans—the question is how that would compare to their current health care costs. Assuming that expenses would be spread among employers, the government, and individuals as they are in most countries with universal health care, most people would find any tax increase to be similar to their current health care costs—with the added benefit that they can sleep at night knowing their neighbors have access to the same medical care as they do.