How to Fix America’s Health Care Problems: Experiment!

By Shlomo Maital

                                            DouglasTommy Douglas: He Stood Alone

President Barack Obama: I apologize. In this space, I criticized you fiercely for incompetence, for the inability to even set up a simple website. Sorry. Turns out it wasn’t so simple. Reforming health care, within a completely broken existing system, is tough. You now have 7 million people signed up for ObamaCare. This is a big achievement.

But it’s only a start. America still spends 18 % (!!) of its GDP on health care, a vastly inflated sum, with little to show (life expectancy is below that of countries that spend less than half that).

   In today’s New York Times, Molly Worthen describes an experiment in Vermont (Live Free!), the state of independent-minded voters. It’s called Green Mountain Care. The idea came from a third party, the Vermont Progressive Party. It’s a single-payer system, which regulates doctor’s fees (translation: keeps doctors from inflating them) and covers all Vermonters’ medical bills. The system could spread to other states.

   This is how to resolve social problems. Let each of the 51 American states try its own system. Check which of them work and then replicate them across America.

   How do I know this works? It worked in Canada. I grew up in Regina Saskatchewan. In 1959 Premier Tommy Douglas proposed a medicare plan to give all residents of Saskatchewan free medical care. Douglas was a socialist, head of the CCF party. He was tiny, a boxer, a fighter, and my family knew him personally – his daughter Shirley went to high school in Regina with my sister Estelle. In July of 1962, the Saskatchewan doctors all went on strike, to protest. It was a bitter strike. Imagine – no doctors, no medical care. The strike lasted three weeks. Douglas fought hard and even began importing doctors from Britain.  Douglas stood alone, against fierce attacks from doctors, hospitals, federal politicians, Saskatchewan voters.  He persisted.

    Tommy Douglas won. The strike ended around July 21, 1962, with the doctors’ submission. And the idea spread from Saskatchewan across Canada, with the federal government mandating national health insurance – a program America needs but somehow cannot seem to attain.  It is thanks to little Tommy Douglas that Canada has a workable, effective health insurance system that America needs so badly but can’t seem to attain. 

    Many Americans are scornful of Canada – but they would do well to look North and benchmark.  Canada does have ideas that work, that America can use.  It’s worth a try.   If there were more social experiments in America, there might be more wellbeing for its citizens.