NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 18, 2009

Two days after President Barack Obama told the American Medical Association that in some countries a single-payer health care system "works pretty well," the White House reaffirmed that people in those countries liked their health care, but also said it did not know to which countries the president was referring. 

The criticism of single-payer health care -- primarily as practiced in Canada and Europe -- has been that operations and procedures are long-delayed or denied and health care is rationed to control costs.  For example:

  • In Canada, the average wait for a 65-year-old man to get a hip replacement is six months, according to the Freedom Works Foundation.
  • The average wait time in a Canadian emergency room is 16 hours and 18 minutes.
  • Also, the average cancer test and radiation treatment cycles vary between 6 to 8 weeks, according to the foundation.


  • In Great Britain, at any one time, there are about a million people waiting to get into hospitals, according to John C. Goodman, president, CEO and Kellye Wright Fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis.
  • Almost 900,000 Canadian patients are on the waiting list at any point in time, according to the Fraser Institute.
  • In New Zealand, 90,000 people are on the waiting lists, according to government figures.

"Those people constitute only about 1 to 2 percent of the population in those countries, but keep in mind that only about 15 percent of the population actually enters a hospital each year," says Goodman.  "Many of the people waiting are waiting in pain.  Many are risking their lives by waiting.  And there is no market mechanism in these countries to get care to people who need it first."

Earlier this year, the Obama administration signed an economic recovery act into law that established a comparative effectiveness council to determine the most cost-effective medical procedures.  This economic stimulus bill also included the establishment of a centrally linked electronic infrastructure that would include the medical information of every American by 2014.

Obama and most Democrats in Congress are pushing for a "public option," or government-run health insurance program that would compete with private health care companies.

Many analysts agree that the private, market-driven companies would be unable to compete with a government-run insurance program, which would have nearly unlimited resources.

Source: Fred Lucas, "White House Stands by Obama's Claim That Single-Payer Health Care Works In Other Countries -- It's Just Not Sure Which Countries Obama Meant,", June 18, 2009.


Browse more articles on Health Issues