In 1964, after three years of study, Justice Emmett Hall, the Progressive Conservative judge and chair of the Royal Commission on Health Care Services, recommended that Canada create a system of universal health insurance. Politicians picked up the ball and ran with it, and for two generations we’ve had medicare. It’s not perfect but, compared with what came before, it’s an overwhelming success.
Back in 1964, millions of Canadians were counting their pennies to pay the doctor; today, all Canadians are insured. Yet, medicare costs far less than the system in the United States, which leaves millions of Americans uninsured or underinsured. The U.S. health-care system, the world’s most expensive at more than 17 per cent of gross domestic product, is two-thirds more costly than ours. If we were spending as much on health care as our southern neighbours, it would eat up an extra $150-billion a year. And yet the average Canadian, remarkably, lives three years longer than the average American.
Medicare works. But the version Canada got is less ambitious than what Justice Hall originally called for.
The “establishment radical,” as his biographer called him, didn’t want to limit public insurance to doctors’ visits and stays in hospitals. He believed it also had to include prescription drugs. He suspected that pharmaceutical treatments would come to play an ever greater role in medical care, and he was right.