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Myths Debunked:
Health Care Is Better in the U.S. than in Canada

 


 

Los Angeles Times

Published on Monday, February 23, 2004 by the Los Angeles Times

In Health, Canada Tops US

Our neighbors to the north live longer and pay less for care. The reasons why are being debated, but some cite the gap between rich and poor in the US

by Judy Foreman

Want a health tip? Move to Canada.

An impressive array of data shows that Canadians live longer, healthier lives than we do. What's more, they pay roughly half as much per capita as we do ($2,163 versus $4,887 in 2001) for the privilege.

Exactly why Canadians fare better is the subject of considerable academic debate. Some policy experts say it's Canada's single-payer, universal health coverage system. Some think it's because our neighbors to the north use fewer illegal drugs and shoot each other less often with guns (though they smoke and drink with gusto, albeit somewhat less than Americans).

Still others think Canadians are healthier because their medical system is tilted more toward primary care doctors and less toward specialists. And some believe it's something more fundamental: a smaller gap between rich and poor.

Perhaps it's all of the above. But there's no arguing the basics.

"By all measures, Canadians' health is better," says Dr. Barbara Starfield, a university distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Canadians "do better on a whole variety of health outcomes," she says, including life expectancy at various ages.

According to a World Health Organization report published in 2003, life expectancy at birth in Canada is 79.8 years, versus 77.3 in the U.S. (Japan's is 81.9.)

"There isn't a single measure in which the U.S. excels in the health arena," says Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington in Seattle. "We spend half of the world's healthcare bill and we are less healthy than all the other rich countries."

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Last changed: December 13, 2009