Canada’s Healthcare: Why “Free” Isn’t Free.

For most Canadians, their national healthcare system is a source of pride – offering all Canadian citizens access to unpaid healthcare nationwide. However this ostensible “oasis” of modern government policy actually leaves much to be desired at the ground-level. In purely economic terms, Canada’s healthcare system is nothing short of a failure, costing the taxpayer a heavy burden, yet returning subpar outcomes.

Free Healthcare in Canada: A System Taxpayers Can’t Measure

Despite the common refrain of Canadians about our “free healthcare”, it should be noted that the health system in Canada is far from free.

Canadians actually pay quite heavily for their free healthcare – although they are unable to calculate just how much of their heavy tax burden goes towards their healthcare.

Due to the lack of a specific healthcare tax, general tax revenues finance Health Canada. This leaves the taxpayer unable to to keep track of how much they pay as a dollar-figure into the healthcare pot.

The Fraser Institute calculated that the average Canadian family of two parents and two children earning $119,082 will pay $11,735 for public health-care insurance in 2015. Meanwhile, a single individual earning $42,244 will pay $4,222. Coupled with this is the ever-increasing cost of healthcare, which has grown at a rate of 1.6 times that of corresponding wage growth.

A Long Wait For Care

A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has discovered that Canadians wait the longest out of patients from 11 industrialized nations for emergency room care and for referrals to specialists.

According to the report, only 46% of patients surveyed in B.C were able to see a physician on the same day they reported, and this was considered the best result of all of Canada’s provinces. In contrast, 76% of patients in the German healthcare system are able to receive care within the same timeframe.

This places Canada firmly behind when compared with other wealthy nations such as the UK and Australia.

Poor R.O.I For Taxpayers

With Canada so far behind in critical aspects of its single-payer healthcare system, the overall value to taxpayers must be examined.

What the numbers tell us is that Canadians spend a lot on their healthcare in terms of tax contributions, but much of this is eaten up in bureaucracy and administration.

With the average taxpayer contributing close to $7000 CAD/year towards the healthcare system, this means that many people are paying in significantly more than they are taking out.

This begs the question as to just how efficient the current framework of care is, and what alternative solutions to the healthcare question could be explored.

A Free-Market Approach

Decades of opposition to any form of privatization due to a fear of a US-type health system, has allowed Canada’s single-payer system to fall far behind more modernized systems.

With Canadians rabidly against any form of healthcare that remotely resembles the US health system, there appears to be some confusion between what a free-market healthcare solution would look like, and what it wouldn’t

First and foremost, what a free market solution wouldn’t look like:

The United States Health System, which is anything but free-market, and has its own set of major accessibility issues is certainly not a model that I’d encourage. Although as an interesting side-note, the USA scores only barely below their northern neighbors in terms of healthcare outcomes. The USA however, tends to lead the world in terms of healthcare innovation and advancement, unlike Canada.

In fact, Canada need not look any further than it’s own provinces for the solution to their woeful wait-times and inequitable delivery of care.In 2010 Saskatchewan implemented the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SSI), which aimed to lower the provinces’ lengthy wait times – the longest in the country at the time.

Under the SSI, certain minor surgeries were outsourced to private for-profit clinics in an effort to lower the burden on the public system. In a report by the former finance minister of Saskatchewan Professor Janice MacKinnon, it was discovered that not only did the private clinics deliverer services faster, but they also did so at 26% cheaper than the public counterparts.

The result? Saskatchewan has gone from having the longest wait times in the country, to the shortest. In fact, the province has seen a 75% reduction to the amount of patients waiting 12 weeks or more for surgery.

With such stunning results, it’s difficult to ignore the efficacy of the free market. Canadians may hold their healthcare system as the jewel in the crown of Canada’s social policy, but they shouldn’t allow a misplaced understanding of their southern neighbors’ healthcare system fuel fears of free-market initiatives that would serve to not only to improve the countries shameful waiting times, but also the overall quality of care delivered.

Isn’t it time Canadians faced the facts about their healthcare system?

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Sam is the founder of and a prolific contributor to the cause of freedom and non-aggression.


  1. The USA has a government restricted free market medical system. This is not inherently bad, as there must be some control to limit abusive practices that are destructive. Unfortunately, the USA government controls are molded after political outcomes (ie. Power and taxpayer money). This establishes unworkable means toward predefined ends in a system of unlimited need. Except, as you noted, where money can be freely supplied to academia friends of the State -hence innovation.

    • Great points bvargo, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I feel sadly that any state-administered healthcare system will be less efficient and more costly to operate than a private counterpart, and this has been shown numerous times as noted.

      Its a tough one!

  2. The US healthcare system is about as far away from a free market system as we are.

    The Primal Prescription by Doug McGuff exposes this in stunning fashion, and I think can give Canadians a little insight into just how corrupt and broken our system is, even if it focuses on the American system.

    I think we should be past the point of even conceding that having the government involved in the healthcare system whatsoever is preferable to truly starting from scratch. People have all these (fairly baseless) convictions about the “abuse” and “exploitation” that might occur in a totally (or close to) unregulated health sector, something none of us have ever seen in action, and unfortunately that conviction is used to justify and perpetuate a system that is so wrought with abuse, exploitation, waste, profiteering, mismanagement and unending growth in all the worst directions (all stemming directly from the fact that the system is public and is driven not in the slightest by market forces but rather low-information and zero accountability central planners, hammers for whom every problem is a nail, despite every solution and initiative having empirically made any given problem worse and unintentionally created new ones).

    It’s a really sad state of affairs. People need to divorce themselves of the notion that somehow deriving revenue from public funds makes planners and bureaucrats immune to self-serving, counterproductive and actively-destructive-to-the-most-vulnerable-in-society actions. It’s precisely the opposite. If a privatized healthcare system was as ludicrously expensive, laughably ineffective, totally inefficient, morally corrupt and enriching the worst bad actors (the way our system, and nearly every state run system) does, we’d never hear the end of it and it would be undeniable proof that the free market is totally unable to effectively provide us with essential services. But since it’s the Sacred Healthcare System of Canada (amen), all we can talk about is ‘reform’ and even budget increases. Which is terrifying, because all that really means is stepping on the accelerator, continuing to speed in the direction that made things so bad to begin with.

    • Thanks for your comments Colin.
      I wholeheartedly agree that there seems to be an irrational need to cling to this “sacred” and horrendously ineffective healthcare system.

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