The United States needs a 'single-payer' health care system

James Clancy addresses Physicians for a National Health Program in Washington


Washington (6 Nov. 2007) - Time has validated Canada's publicly-funded national health care system and the United States should move toward a similar system, says James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

Speaking to an American group called Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Clancy said only a small minority of people in Canada favour private health care solutions such as private insurance, user fees, medical savings accounts and parallel for-profit care.

"The vast majority of Canadians have repeatedly said No to these proposals, because the principles on which these proposals rest cannot be reconciled with the values at the heart of our medicare," Clancy said.

"The opponents of our single-payer system claim it’s a perversion of Canadian values that they can’t use their own money to purchase faster treatment from a private for-profit provider," he added.

"But the consensus view of Canadians on this issue is clear: It’s a far greater perversion of Canadian values to accept a system where money, rather than need, determines who gets access to health care."

Medicare defines Canada

Clancy said medicare defines the values of Canada. "Sickness doesn’t discriminate. And in Canada we’ve made the collective decision that health care shouldn’t discriminate either," he said.

"Overwhelmingly, Canadians strongly support the core values on which our system is premised: equality, compassion and social solidarity. In fact, our medicare system is now tied to our understanding of citizenship – more than a social program, medicare to us represents a birthright and an identifying mark of Canadian-ness."

On five occasions since national public health care was established in Canada more than 40 years ago, the system has been reviewed by high-profile political and judicial leaders, he noted. "All came to the same conclusion: single-payer, publicly-funded health care is more equitable, more efficient and more effective," he said.

He acknowledged that problems, such as wait times, exist within the Canadian system but he said solutions also exist and will be far less costly to implement than in the U.S. Canada spends about 10% of GDP to finance its health care system, which covers all citizens. The U.S. spends roughly 15% of GDP yet leaves millions with no coverage at all, he noted.

Clancy said wait times are not caused by Canada's single-payer system.

Health professionals

"The main source of the problem is something most countries around the world are experiencing: we’re facing a health human resources crisis," he argued.

"There’s a serious shortage of health professionals in Canada. They’re retiring in big numbers. And we’re just not recruiting and training enough new health professionals.

To be successful in reducing those waiting lines, we’re working with Canadian governments to invest in a national strategy that will lead to a greatly expanded workforce of health care professionals."

Clancy said the challenge is for groups such as NUPGE and PNHP to work together to bring "a single-payer system in the U.S." while continuing to defend and expand the system that exists in Canada.

"If we continue to fight with passion and conviction and hold out for what we want, we’ll do more than make a difference in health care. We’ll create a world of which we can all be truly proud. Working together – we can make that happen," he said. NUPGE