SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
BACKGROUND: While countries such as the USA, South Africa and China debate health reforms to improve access to care while rationalising costs, Canada's health care system has emerged as a notable option. In the USA, meaningful discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the Canadian system has been thwarted by ideological mudslinging on the part of large insurance companies seeking to preserve their ultra-profitable turf and backed by conservative political forces stirring up old fears of 'socialised medicine'. These distractions have relegated the possibility of a 'public option' to the legislative dustbin, leaving tens of millions of people to face uninsurance, under-insurance, bankruptcy and unnecessary death and suffering, even after passage of the Obama health plan. While South Africa appears to experience similar legislative paralysis, there remains room for reasoned health reform debate to address issues of equity, access, and financing. OBJECTIVE:. Our aim is to contribute to the debate from a Canadian perspective, setting out the basic principles of Medicare (Canada's health care system), reviewing its advantages and challenges, clarifying misunderstandings, and exploring its relevance to South Africa. We periodically refer to the USA because of the similarities to the South African situation, including its health care system, which mirrors South Africa's current position if left unchanged. CONCLUSION:. While Medicare is neither flawless nor a model worthy of wholesale imitation, we contend that open discussion of Canada's experience is a useful component in South Africa's current policy and political efforts.