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Health Systems: Why can’t we be less like the US and more like Denmark?

Compared to the United States, Canada’s health care system appears to be the model of efficiency. The United States continues to be an outlier when it comes to health care. Americans spend a greater percentage of their overall economy on health care than in any other United Nations member state – except for East Timor. And yet many of their key outcome indicators are well below countries that spend far less.

According to international OECD data (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), in 2008 Canada spent $4,079 (US) per capita on both private and public health care. The US spent $7,538 (US).

What we often forget in these comparisons is about a third of our health care system is very much like the United States. Most of us do not pull out our OHIP card when we visit the dentist or the pharmacy. When Dalton McGuinty was first elected in 2004, he established a dedicated health care tax that brings in about $3 billion per year. He also delisted physiotherapy, eye exams and chiropractic care. Most now have to pay for these services through private insurance or out-of-pocket. Now we are seeing more Ontarians, tired of waiting for home care services, paying out-of-pocket to get service from the same agencies that are responsible for providing public care. According to the Ontario Home Care Association, 20 million hours – or about 40 per cent of home care – is purchased privately.

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