Fraser Forum

The average Canadian family will pay $12,935 for health care this year

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Most Canadians likely know they pay some amount to sustain our public health-care system. However, they probably don’t know how much.

We aren’t billed directly for health services, and we have nothing that even closely approximates a dedicated health insurance tax that fully funds the system. While premiums (in provinces that have them) help remind taxpayers of the cost of the system, they likely exacerbate the confusion because they only cover a fraction of the true cost of health care and are not earmarked for health spending—they just go to general government revenue.

This has led to a misperception that our health-care system is cheap, or in some cases “free”—which, of course, is far from the truth.

A recent study by the Fraser Institute attempted to help Canadian families better understand how much they pay for public health-care insurance every year. Using data from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the study estimates that the average Canadian family (two parents, two children) with a household income of $138,008 will pay $12,935 for public health care this year, while a single individual (earning $44,348) can expect to pay $4,640.

The amount Canadian families pay for health care, of course, varies across the income spectrum. For example, the 10 per cent of Canadian families with the lowest incomes (earning $14,885 per household, on average) will pay $496 for health care in 2018 while families among the top 10 per cent of income earners (earning a household income of $291,364 on average) will pay $38,903.

Regardless of whether families consider these numbers too high or too low, they are a fundamental piece of information and help us all better assess the quantity and quality of health care we receive.

For example, some families may take comfort in the fact that they receive life-saving—and expensive—treatment in the emergency room or cancer-care centres for the amounts they pay through the tax system. Others may lament the fact they must wait 41.7 weeks (on average) to receive medically necessary elective orthopaedic surgery. And some may be astounded knowing that the money they pay every year cannot even ensure they have a regular family doctor.

Getting a better understanding of how much we pay for health care each year also enables us to watch how that amount changes over time. For example, our study reveals the amount families pay for health care has grown almost twice as fast as their incomes over the last two decades. This realization should raise concerns about affordability and sustainability—or at the very least why, despite such increases, wait times are longer than ever.

Regardless of how families interpret the data, it’s important for Canadians to understand how much they pay for our public health-care system so they can better decide whether or not they get good value for their tax dollars. One thing’s for sure—our system certainly isn’t “free.”


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