Take Member of Parliament Belinda Stronach. She strongly supports Canada’s health care system. But where did she go when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007? To California, where she paid for treatment out-of-pocket. Then there was a mother in Calgary, Alberta, who had to be flown to Great Falls, Mont., to deliver her quadruplets. This relatively small American city had better facilities than any hospital in the wealthy province of Alberta.
Our current system is far from perfect, of course. Millions of Americans lack health insurance, prompting many to put off seeing a doctor until a small, treatable problem has become a larger, more threatening condition.
But the answer isn’t to try and cover everyone through a single-payer system. We’d be better off changing how the federal tax code treats health insurance (which, illogically enough in our 21st century economy, ties it to our jobs). Such a change would foster genuine competition among insurers by allowing Americans to shop for the coverage that suits them best in an open market.
Current policy provides unlimited tax breaks for health coverage provided through employers. Meanwhile, Americans who want to buy their own insurance must do so with after-tax dollars. Few can afford to do that, especially since insurers are more interested in competing for big group coverage (more lives, more money) rather than individual or family-based coverage.
Lawmakers could change this, and even provide vouchers or other forms of direct assistance to help poorer Americans buy private plans they would own and control. This would also make insurance portable when people change jobs.
Maintaining our standard of care is critical. There’s a reason Canadians “fly south” for treatment: Our system, for all its flaws, provides superior quality and access to care. Let’s ensure that policymakers, in their understandable zeal to reform health care, don’t make changes that weaken the entire system.
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