White House Stands by Obama's Claim That Single-Payer Health Care Works In Other Countries--It's Just Not Sure Which Countries Obama Meant

By Fred Lucas | June 17, 2009 | 7:09 PM EDT

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (AP Photo)

White House (CNSNews.com) - Two days after President Barack Obama told the American Medical Association that in some countries a single-payer health care system “works pretty well,” the White House reaffirmed that people in those countries liked their health care, but also said it did not know to which countries the president was referring.

“I don’t know exactly the countries. I think if you talk to the people in the countries that have that system, they think their health care is pretty good,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNSNews.com Wednesday during the daily press briefing.

Asked again if he knew specifically which countries, Gibbs replied: “I assume Canada, Britain, maybe France. I don’t know the exact countries, but again, I don’t think the president is going way out on a limb that some people in other countries have a health care system that they like. Just as some Americans like the health care system that they have.”

President Obama spoke Monday in Chicago to the American Medical Association, the doctors’ lobby that is skeptical about his “public option” health care reform proposal.

“Let me also say that—let me also address an illegitimate concern that’s being put forward by those who are claiming a public option is somehow a Trojan Horse for a single-payer system,” Obama said on Monday.

“I’ll be honest, there are countries where a single-payer system works pretty well. But I believe – and I’ve taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief – that it’s important for our efforts to build on our traditions here in the United States. So when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this: They’re not telling the truth.”

The criticism of single-payer health care – primarily as practiced in Canada and Europe – has been that operations and procedures are long-delayed or denied and health care is rationed to control costs. For example, in Canada, the average wait for a 65-year-old man to get a hip replacement is six months, according to the Freedom Works Foundation.

The average wait time in a Canadian emergency room is 16 hours and 18 minutes. Also, “the average cancer test and radiation treatment cycles vary between 6 to 8 weeks,” the foundation reported.

John Goodman, director of the National Center for Policy Analysis and author of the book, “Lives at Risk: Single-Payer National Health Insurance Around the World,” has reported that in Britain, “at any one time, there are about a million people waiting to get into hospitals. According to the Fraser Institute, almost 900,000 Canadian patients are on the waiting list at any point in time. And, according to the New Zealand government, 90,000 people are on the waiting lists there.”

“Those people constitute only about 1 to 2 percent of the population in those countries, but keep in mind that only about 15 percent of the population actually enters a hospital each year,” says Goodman. “Many of the people waiting are waiting in pain. Many are risking their lives by waiting. And there is no market mechanism in these countries to get care to people who need it first.”

Earlier this year, the Obama administration signed an economic recovery act into law that established a comparative effectiveness council to determine the most cost-effective medical procedures. This economic stimulus bill also included the establishment of a centrally linked electronic infrastructure that would include the medical information of every American by 2014.

Obama and most Democrats in Congress are pushing for a “public option,” or government-run health insurance program that would compete with private health care companies.

Many analysts agree that the private, market-driven companies would be unable to compete with a government-run insurance program, which would have nearly unlimited resources.