Many Americans who longingly cast their eyes north of the border, envying the low-cost, quality health care available to every Canadian, should realize that it wasn’t always that way–nor was it the generosity of the Canadian government in Toronto that brought it about. In fact, it happened quite gradually, one province at a time. As five-term premier of Saskatchewan in the years following World War II, Tommy Douglas–whom many Canadians regard as their greatest citizen and a national hero–fought hard to make free, universal health care available to all people in the province, while managing to reduce the provincial debt by $20 million CDN. Over the next quarter century, the other provinces of Canada adopted plans similar to that of Saskatchewan before the Canadian government instituted the system nationally in the 1960s. Of all the U.S. presidential candidates, only Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has a detailed, workable plan that would do the same for all Americans. In the meantime, like Saskatchewan in the late 1940s, individual states are moving ahead with their own ideas. Last week, the federal government approved an Indiana plan that would allow low-income adults to access up to $300,000 in coverage. Indiana is the 13th state to offer such coverage to childless adults. In order to qualify, applicants must contribute to “health savings accounts.” Those enrolling in the program are expected to contribute 2% to 5% of their income to such an account.
The recipient then receives up to $1,100 for the account from the state, plus $500 in preventive care. Once this is exhausted, participants would be covered by “traditional” health insurance, up to a maximum of $300,000 per year. The program, meant to expand the state’s Medicare funding, would be paid for by a 44-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes, while the federal government contributes $1.1 billion over the next five years. While the new system should provide coverage for 169,000 adults and children in the Hoosier state, there has been some criticism. “It sets a precedent–a dangerous one…You’re making people under 100 percent of poverty pay an enormous amount for their health care,” says Sarahbeth Zemel of Families USA, an advocacy group. On the other hand, it takes advantage of an established government program with low overhead and no huge CEO salaries or stockholder dividends to pay. The program takes effect on 1 January 2008.