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POLICY: Americans apparently prefer Canadian healthcare

Following my article about reimportation on Friday I’ve been having some email chats with some “Canada doubters” (for want of a better word). So I was most amused to get the latest Harris Poll on the topic. The poll isn’t up online yet, but here’s Humphrey Taylor’s take:

With one exception, more Americans feel very positively about their own country than about the other countries. They rate the U.S. Constitution and system of government much more highly than those of other countries. Americans also rate the quality of life, the present government, the economy and the environment in the U.S. more highly than those in other countries – or to be literally accurate, more Americans feel “very positive” about these things than they do about them in Canada or the major European countries. The one exception to their generally more positive views of things in this country is the U.S. health care system.

On five of the six criteria, majorities of adults feel very positively about the U.S., from the 77 percent who feel very positively about the U.S. Constitution and system of government and about the quality of life in the United States to the 51 percent who feel very positively about the environment in this country. Again there is one exception; only 34 percent of adults in America feel very positively about the U.S. health care system. The most striking finding, however, is that substantially more Americans feel very positively about the Canadian health care system (49%) than about the U.S. health care system (34%).

Now to poke a few holes in this (which Humphrey would agree with), it’s fair to say that American’s aren’t exactly too well educated about virtually anything that happens outside the 48 contiguous, and that doubles down when you think about European countries and healthcare systems. For instance, 45% said they felt positive about the quality of life in the UK as compared to only 31% for France and 25% for Spain. I guess good food, great wine and wonderful weather don’t count for much to Americans but while you don’t see too many Spaniards heading to the UK for vacation, there’s a lot of Brits going the other way!

Meanwhile, the WHO has always rated the French and German systems very highly, but only 16% and 12% of the American public do so, while 28% think well of that evil socialized medicine in the UK. Of course the key point of the whole survey is that only 34% of Americans feel very positively about their health care system, while 49% feel very good about Canada’s.

This is important for two reasons. First, it’s probably the only comparative question about health care that Americans can answer from some knowledge base. The word is indeed out that Canada at the least has cheaper drug prices, and the the word is probably getting out that everyone gets “free” coverage there. Second and more importantly, as is framed on the wall in the reception area of the Harris office, W.I. Thomas said, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” And the consequence of this perception means more ructions in the American health policy debate, which is gathering speed at a rapid clip.

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