WASHINGTON - Despite complaints about long waits for services, Canadians are healthier than their U.S. neighbors and receive more consistent medical care, according to a report released on Tuesday.
A telephone survey of more than 8,000 people showed that even though Americans spend nearly twice as much per capita for health care, they have more trouble getting care and have more unmet health needs than Canadians do.
The survey was done by Harvard Medical School researchers who include members of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a national health program in the United States.
"These findings raise serious questions about what we're getting for the $2.1 trillion we're spending on health care this year," said Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.
"We pay almost twice what Canada does for care, more than $6,000 for every American, yet Canadians are healthier, and live two to three years longer," Himmelstein added in a statement.
"Canadians had better access to most types of medical care (with the single exception of pap smears)," Himmelstein and colleagues wrote in the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
"Canadians were 7 percent more likely to have a regular doctor and 19 percent less likely to have an unmet health need. U.S. respondents were almost twice as likely to go without a needed medicine due to cost (9.9 percent of U.S. respondents couldn't afford medicine versus 5.1 percent in Canada)," they added.
"After taking into account income, age, sex, race and immigrant status, Canadians were 33 percent more likely to have a regular doctor and 27 percent less likely to have an unmet health need."
The researchers analyzed data from a telephone survey of 3,505 Canadian and 5,103 U.S. adults.
They wanted to see if there were any differences in health between Canadians, who have a tax-supported national health care system, and Americans, whose health care largely depends on private insurers, employers or the free market, with older Americans and the very poor cared for by Medicare, Medicaid and other joint federal-state health insurance plans
The researchers found that U.S. residents had higher rates of diabetes, arthritis, chronic lung disease, high blood pressure and obesity.
"Most of what we hear about the Canadian health care system is negative; in particular, the long waiting times for medical procedures," Dr. Karen Lasser an instructor of medicine at Harvard who worked on the study, said in a statement.
"But we found that waiting times affect few patients, only 3.5 percent of Canadians versus 0.7 percent of people in the U.S. No one ever talks about the fact that low-income and minority patients fare better in Canada," she added.
"Based on our findings, if I had to choose between the two systems for my patients, I would choose the Canadian system hands down."
The researchers said the study population was representative of 206 million U.S. adults and 24 million Canadian adults but noted that only half the Americans contacted took part in the survey, and 60 percent of the Canadians.
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