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The argument for universal health care

November 20, 2010

Re: “Why do we still subsidize care for the well-to-do?” Globe and Mail, November 19, 2010

In Friday’s Globe and Mail Michael Bliss asks why government should continue to pay for health care for the well-to-do. The reason is simple: if it didn't, health care for everyone else would suffer.

If people with higher incomes separate themselves from the rest of us to pay for their health care, doctors, nurses, and equipment would be drained from the public system to cater to the demands of these more affluent private payers. That's exactly what happened in Australia when private payment was introduced. As a result, wait times in the public system increased.

In addition to longer wait times in the public system, the loss of the wealthy and influential from our public system would likely lead to a decrease in the quality of our public health care: without our most affluent citizens advocating for and demanding continuous improvement to our Medicare system there is considerable risk that such improvement might not continue to occur.  Furthermore, the evidence shows that excessive use of resources among the affluent does not translate into better health outcomes – even for them.

Single-tier health care is the best way to ensure that access to services is based on need rather than ability to pay. Canadians know this, which is why they continue to support Medicare in poll after poll in spite of ongoing attacks on the system. The question that Mr. Bliss asks was answered long, long ago. So why then do Mr. Bliss and some other academics and politicians keep asking Canadians the same question? Maybe it’s because they just don’t like the answer.

Dr. Nan Okun, Ontario Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare

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