Canadians are far happier than Americans with their country's healthcare system, but the difference in satisfaction levels has narrowed in recent years, according to a poll released last week by Louis Harris & Associates.
In 1988, a Harris poll found that 56% of Canadians believed that their healthcare system worked "pretty well" and needed only minor changes. By comparison, only 10% of Americans said they believed that about their country's health system.
But the same survey conducted this year found that Americans have grown slightly more content with their healthcare system while Canadians have become more disgruntled.
Of the 1,255 Americans polled last month, 14% said this country's healthcare system worked pretty well and needed only minor changes, an increase of four percentage points over the 1988 survey. Nearly three times that percentage-
40%-of the 2,016 Canadians polled by Harris were satisfied and said their system needed some adjustments, but that was a decline of 16 percentage points from 1988.
Humphrey Taylor, president of Louis Harris, said part of the decline in Canadians' satisfaction could be a result of negative publicity generated about their healthcare system since the debate on reform heated up in the United States.
But in spite of the narrowing gap in attitudes, most Americans remain unsatisfied with their system.
"The Canadian comparison is yet another measure of how bad the system is for Americans," Mr. Taylor said.
Some 54% of the Americans polled said the healthcare system needs fundamental changes, compared with 48% of Canadians. In 1988, those percentages were 60% and 38%, respectively. Some 31% of Americans believe the healthcare system has such severe problems that it needs to be completely rebuilt.
But as congressional committees continued feverish work on their respective healthcare plans last week, Mr. Taylor told reporters that it was unlikely the public would ever grasp the details and distinctions among them.
"The public doesn't have opinions about the details of (reform) bills," he said. Americans believe costs are too high, and they're nervous about the possibility of paying higher taxes for reform, but beyond that, "The idea that John Q. Citizen can sort through (the various health plans) and make some sort of decision is laughable," Mr. Taylor said.
While managed competition has become a popular approach for reform, most of the public doesn't like managed care, Mr. Taylor said.
"The reason we'll have managed competition is that it's easier to sell to everybody else," he added, referring to special interest groups that have advocated managed competition.
If that type of reform doesn't work, Mr. Taylor is predicting that the United States will adopt a single-payer system, similar to Canada's, in the early part of the next century.