They spend half and live longer

By Ed Weisbart, M.D.
St. Louis Business Journal, Letters, July 10, 2015

Ascension CEO Tony Tersigni is right when he told the St. Louis Business Journal that our nation's current policies relegate health care to a side burner. Finances, not health care, are the focus of our national policies.

Tersigni identifies four health care finance models in the United States -- Canada for seniors, Europe for employees, Great Britain for veterans and Native Americans, and rural India or Cambodia for the uninsured.

One choice stands out as the most efficient use of resources and a fierce acceptance across America -- the Canadian model that forms the basis of our Medicare.

Until 1971, the United States and Canada were spending roughly the same percentage of GDP on health care, and had been following the same cost trends. That year, President Richard Nixon signed the HMO Act into law, while Canada full implemented their national health program. In a sense, North America embarked upon an experiment proactively comparing the private insurance model with a single-payer structure.

Since 1971, the cost curves have definitively separated. Canadian costs have continued to climb, but at a rate substantially slower than ours. Today they spend roughly half what we spend on health care.

But health care is not only about economics. Over the same time frame, Canadian life expectancy has also been growing more quickly than that of the United States. At the beginning of the experiment, Canadians were living one year longer than we were. Today, they live nearly three years longer than we do.

They spend half of what we spend and they live longer. Both distinctions developed after the fork in the road where we turned to managed care they turned to a single-payer national health program.

I submit that it's time to stop this experiment. We know the solution to our health care crisis, and it does not need to be difficult to implement.

This year, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare having been signed into law, right here in Missouri. We should pause, celebrate the program, and honor it by providing it to all Americans. After all, who among us does not deserve this?

Dr. Ed Weisbart is chairman of Physicians for a National Health Program -- Missouri chapter.