How Canada’s Health Care Could Save the U.S.

Screw Obamacare. Here are three arguments for a public option even an arch conservative can get behind.

Any day now we could be hearing from ye olde Supreme Court on Obamacare, known more formally as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and less formally as the pale imitation of the health-care reform we actually needed. It’s the law that strove to bring America in line with most other modern, sane, rational nations, but in kowtowing to big insurance companies provided modest gains at best.

At issue, of course, is the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that all Americans buy health insurance (individually or through their employer) or pay a fine. The Obama administration’s rationale for this is that we’re all users of health care at one point or another, and those of us who do not pay into the system drive up costs for those of us who do.

Opponents, who take issue with such things when they’re not the ones gobbling up executive power, say it’s government overstepping its bounds. (They’ll even say that Bush was justified in his power grabbiness because we were at war; as if we’re not still at war, and as if our ongoing economic slump—tied in no small way to our creaky old health-care system, and all that Bush-initiated “defense” spending—isn’t a huge threat to our national well-being.)

Anyone who’s not been so lucky as to enjoy excellent benefits, who’s been forced to choose lesser insurance, take or stay in a crap job for the benefits, or actually had to choose between medical care and another necessity, say, food or their child’s schooling or daycare, knows it was far from overstepping, and more a heartless, partisan half-step.

Which is why the time is now—as we sit and wait for the SCOTUS to rule on legislation nobody was actually happy with to begin with—to relight the torch for the single-payer system, the dear-old “public option.” (Which just might happen anyway, some analysts speculate, should the robed ones put the unlikely kibosh on Obamacare. However, in a rare show of humanity, some insurers have said they’ll keep certain of the law’s regulations, even if the law itself is struck down.)

I know what you’re thinking: “Here comes some more liberal claptrap about how it’s my responsibility if some undocumented day laborer lops off his toe in a grape-picking incident.” And yes, maybe the idea that the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the planet ought to be able to care for all of its inhabitants—citizens or not—is a Canadian liberal one. But there are arguments for a single-payer system that even a free-market-humping ultra-conservative can get behind.

1. A single-payer system is good for entrepreneurship. Think of all the bright, ambitious souls out there in the American workforce thinking, “I’d try to make a go of opening that bauble shop/tchotchke hut/widget kiosk, but my family can’t afford to lose the benefits I get through this job that drives me to drink every night.” Ironic how installing socialized medicine could completely rekindle the free market.

2. A single-payer system will lead to a more productive workforce. How many bright, ambitious souls are rendered slothful slugs by jobs they find unstimulating, but which they feel stuck in because they or their family need, you guessed it ubiquitous Unum commercials, the benefits. With a workforce untethered by insurance worries and free to at least seek employment it finds challenging and fulfilling, productivity could spike.

3. A single-payer system eliminates redundancies and inefficiencies. As someone with knowledge of the situation explained to me, with different regulations and standards across state lines, each state may as well be its own country where insurance bureaucracy is concerned. Standardizing health-care processes could eventually eliminate billions in wasteful, unnecessary spending, realize major efficiencies, bringing health-care costs way down in the process. It’s not as if the U.S. government doesn’t have some experience in this arena. Of course, that would put a lot of people whose jobs exist to translate data from one backward system to another out of work, but there’d be a huge need for them during the transition, after which, we could employ them to count all the money we’re saving.