Which health care system is better? Canada or the United States?

Story from the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

The article compares (pre-Obamacare) American health care to health care in other places like Canada, the UK and Europe.

The full article. I almost never cite the full article, but this is a must read. Men, pay close attention to the differences in prostate cancer treatment rates in a for-profit system versus a single-payer system, where bureaucrats decide who gets treatment.


Here’s a Second Opinion

By Scott W. Atlas

Ten reasons why America’s health care system is in better condition than you might suppose. By Scott W. Atlas.

Medical care in the United States is derided as miserable compared to health care systems in the rest of the developed world. Economists, government officials, insurers, and academics beat the drum for a far larger government role in health care. Much of the public assumes that their arguments are sound because the calls for change are so ubiquitous and the topic so complex. Before we turn to government as the solution, however, we should consider some unheralded facts about America’s health care system.1. Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.Breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany than in the United States and 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the United Kingdom and 457 percent higher in Norway. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 percent higher.2. Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.Breast cancer mortality in Canada is 9 percent higher than in the United States, prostate cancer is 184 percent higher, and colon cancer among men is about 10 percent higher.3. Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries. Some 56 percent of Americans who could benefit from statin drugs, which reduce cholesterol and protect against heart disease, are taking them. By comparison, of those patients who could benefit from these drugs, only 36 percent of the Dutch, 29 percent of the Swiss, 26 percent of Germans, 23 percent of Britons, and 17 percent of Italians receive them.

4. Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians. Take the proportion of the appropriate-age population groups who have received recommended tests for breast, cervical, prostate, and colon cancer:

  • Nine out of ten middle-aged American women (89 percent) have had a mammogram, compared to fewer than three-fourths of Canadians (72 percent).
  • Nearly all American women (96 percent) have had a Pap smear, compared to fewer than 90 percent of Canadians.
  • More than half of American men (54 percent) have had a prostatespecific antigen (PSA) test, compared to fewer than one in six Canadians (16 percent).
  • Nearly one-third of Americans (30 percent) have had a colonoscopy, compared with fewer than one in twenty Canadians (5 percent).

5. Lower-income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians. Twice as many American seniors with below-median incomes self-report “excellent” health (11.7 percent) compared to Canadian seniors (5.8 percent). Conversely, white, young Canadian adults with below-median incomes are 20 percent more likely than lower-income Americans to describe their health as “fair or poor.”

6. Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the United Kingdom. Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long—sometimes more than a year—to see a specialist, have elective surgery such as hip replacements, or get radiation treatment for cancer. All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada. In Britain, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

7. People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed. More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.”

8. Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians. When asked about their own health care instead of the “health care system,” more than half of Americans (51.3 percent) are very satisfied with their health care services, compared with only 41.5 percent of Canadians; a lower proportion of Americans are dissatisfied (6.8 percent) than Canadians (8.5 percent).

9. Americans have better access to important new technologies such as medical imaging than do patients in Canada or Britain. An overwhelming majority of leading American physicians identify computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the most important medical innovations for improving patient care during the previous decade—even as economists and policy makers unfamiliar with actual medical practice decry these techniques as wasteful. The United States has thirty-four CT scanners per million Americans, compared to twelve in Canada and eight in Britain. The United States has almost twenty-seven MRI machines per million people compared to about six per million in Canada and Britain.

10. Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations. The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other developed country. Since the mid- 1970s, the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has gone to U.S. residents more often than recipients from all other countries combined. In only five of the past thirty-four years did a scientist living in the United States not win or share in the prize. Most important recent medical innovations were developed in the United States.

Despite serious challenges, such as escalating costs and care for the uninsured, the U.S. health care system compares favorably to those in other developed countries.

This essay appeared on the website of the National Center for Policy Analysis on March 24, 2009. An earlier version was published in the Washington Times.Available from the Hoover Press is Power to the Patient: Selected Health Care Issues and Policy Solutions, edited by Scott W. Atlas. To order, call 800.935.2882 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

Scott W. Atlas is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical School.

Please forward this article to all of your friends! It’s important!

4 thoughts on “Which health care system is better? Canada or the United States?”

  1. I’m a Canadian who’s been going to school in the US for seven years and I’d have to disagree. The american system *could* be better but it’s not. As a percent of GDP the US spends almost twice what Canada does on Health care and has worse general health statistics. Of course there are specific statistics that favor the US such as the ones you listed but they are less relevant. I got frostbite last year and spent $7,000 for a day and a half of care in the US, bought a ticket back home and spent $400 for the next three months in Canada. My full opinion on the two systems is here: http://lovinitinaz.blogspot.com/2009/08/obamas-plan-for-universal-healthcare.html the current US system is the worst of both worlds.


  2. i must say…im canadian and i’ve never waited a year for a specialist appointment..i also work in a hopsital and we book specialist appointments for patients they get in within 2 to 3 weeks…ive never heard anyone of waiting a year for a specialist appointment


    1. Peer-reviewed research:

      The median waiting time for knee replacement after the operation had been planned was three weeks in the United States and eight weeks in Canada. In the United States, 95 percent of patients in the national sample considered their waiting time for surgery acceptable, as compared with 85.1 percent in Ontario. Overall satisfaction with surgery (“very or somewhat satisfied”) was 85.3 percent for all U.S. respondents and 83.5 percent for Canadian respondents.

      More here:


  3. OK, well I’m a Canadian that has to agree with WK, the system here is expensive ineffective and hazardous to the general well being of the population, which also makes it a colossal waste of tax payer funds. I think the personal experiences from the last two Canadians are anecdotal and have a lot to do with where in Canada they live and comparing it to where in the US they went. I live outside of Toronto, Ontario Canada and we had a patient in our city die in the waiting room of a brand new hospital. These hospitals are costing the tax payer half of their taxes combined taxes and in Ontario we have to pay a healthcare premium as well, that doesn’t even go to health care, but rather into a slush fund to pay for the things the province can no longer afford because health care is so expensive. When doctors are paid by the government the quality of care is irrelevant. There are already not enough doctors for every Canadian to have a family doctor so there is no incentive whatsoever for a doctor to be a ‘good doctor.’ In fact the best doctors do not take new patients and are regularly out of the country on vacation because they are also tax payers and their salaries are taxed at an enormously high marginal tax rate, so they try to stay within certain tax brackets. The whole system in Canada is flawed and no one is receiving quality healthcare. Canadians regularly refer to this as free healthcare, which is ludicrous considering how much we pay for it. When I was in the US I was actually able to receive free healthcare because a private practitioner can actually decide whether or not he will charge for something. This is a concept that is unheard of and illegal in Canada. Yes that’s right. Charity from a doctor is illegal in Canada. You also can’t charge for charity and there is currently a lady pediatrician in Canada being sued for offering faster service for money. So there you have it. You can take a private system that runs on personal responsibility and competition to serve the populace, or you can take a public egalitarian system that serves no one. Obviously the American system is far superior. The money put in the system can be put towards higher technology equiptment and more essential services. In Canada we pay for OHIP but it still doesn’t cover dental, vision, children with autism, diabetic medications and supplies, vision correction, hospital stays etc. All of these costs still need to come out of pocket. The Canadian system is broken and is defunding more and more essential services every year. Don’t buy into a fantasy of what socialized medicine looks like. Get the facts. If you look to Europe you can see where Canada will be in a few years. Hospitals where people die from a heat stroke because air-conditioners cannot be afforded to run and whole systems like France and Germany tittering on the brink of bankruptcy.


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