Opening the door to single-payer health care

Tommy_DouglasMy previous posts on national health care, The bottom line in health care and The bottom line in health care, and Single-payer health care: Why not?, make the case for a national health program. But Canada established its program in an incremental way.

Tommy Douglas, premier of Saskatchewan from 1941 to 1960, led the province to develop a universal, publicly-funded “single-payer” health care system. It was so successful that other provinces soon copied it, and ultimately, so did Canada’s federal government. In 2004, Douglas was rated by his compatriots as “The Greatest Canadian” of all time.

Saskatchewan has been a leader in many areas of health care, but that happened over many years. The Saskatchewan Government site lists six reasons why the province was able to do what it did. These are worth thinking about for the US health care debates today:

  • There was a vision of health care for all.
  • Citizens showed a co-operative spirit, trust, and a willingness to help one another.
  • Municipal politicians were forward-thinking and innovative.
  • Provincial governments responded quickly to needs.
  • Medical doctors were altruistic, with service to sick patients as their primary goal.
  • Economic hardship, particularly during the 1930s, meant that virtually everyone was in the same predicament.

A US House committee recently approved an amendment allowing states to create single-payer health care systems. Doing so might be a way around entrenched, moneyed interests that have thus far thwarted every attempt at health care reform in the US, but only if we can find a similar vision and co-operative spirit. Could we do it without the economic hardship of the 1930s?


Nichols, John (2009, July 17). A real win for single-payer advocates. The Nation.

Physicians for a National Health Program.

Stewart, Walter (2003). The life and political times of Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McArthur. Gripping, humorous, and revealing story of Douglas’s amazing life.

One thought on “Opening the door to single-payer health care

  1. Pingback: Keeping tabs « Chip’s journey

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