Canadians already pay ‘membership fee’ for health care

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Appeared in the Western Standard, August 4, 2023
Canadians already pay ‘membership fee’ for health care

According to recent reports, a private clinic in Alberta is charging families an annual $4,800 membership fee for various health-care services including access to family doctors. While the work of determining the legality of such charges at the Marda Loop clinic in Calgary will undoubtedly land on the desks of lawyers and bureaucrats, the situation raises a broader question. Are Canadians aware that most of them actually pay significantly more than $4,800 every year for public health care? And how would they feel about paying a similar annual “membership fee” for Canada’s public health-care system?

Most Canadians are aware that governments spend a considerable amount on the public health-care system. But it remains difficult to make a direct connection between government spending on health care and our wallets because our public health-care system is funded through general government revenues instead of a dedicated tax, so we don’t know exactly how many of our tax dollars get funnelled to health care.

Subsequently, it’s worth asking—what would an annual “membership fee” for the government’s health-care system look like? The answer depends on your family’s size and income because these factors affect the amount of taxes households pay.

According to a new study published by the Fraser Institute, a typical Canadian family (two parents and two children) with an average household income of $169,296 will pay an estimated $16,950 for public health care this year while single Canadians with an average income of $54,357 will pay $5,622. Again, the amounts that different families pay will vary considerably according to their incomes. The lowest 10 per cent of income earners will pay $644 while the top 10 per cent will pay $44,314.

Importantly, this membership fee for public health care has been going up over time, increasing by 234 per cent since 1997 (the first year of available data). This increase outstrips the change in inflation (71.9 per cent) and increases in cash income for the average family (133.8 per cent). In fact, on an inflation-adjusted basis, the price of public health care has increased 1.7 times faster than household incomes.

While there are, of course, considerable differences between the Marda Loop clinic’s membership fee and the amount paid to government through taxes, it’s important to remember that we do in fact pay a considerable amount of money for public health care. Perhaps it’s time the government sent us an annual bill summarizing these costs so we’re better aware of how much we actually pay for the government’s health-care system.

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