The Impact of Single-Payer Health Care on Physician Income in Canada, 1850–2005

By Jacalyn Duffin, MD, PhD
American Journal of Public Health, July 2011

Over nearly 60 years, into the 21st century, physician income grew at a rate of increase that outpaced that of other Canadians. Since 1958 through the advent of medicare, until at least 1992 and probably into the present, physicians, as a professional category, were the top earners in the country.

In 2005, US doctors earned about five-and-a-half times the US GDP per capita; Canadian doctors earned about four times their country’s GDP per capita.

The observation that Canadian physicians are paid less than their American counterparts invites us to ask, what do Canadians “get” in exchange for paying their physicians less than their American counterparts? A 1990 study showed that, although per capita expenditures on health in the United States were higher than those in Canada, the actual number of services was fewer. In other words, Canadian citizens were getting more and spending less.

From this research, we observe that even when the readjustments resulting from various policy and payment alterations are taken into account, Canadian medicare did not lead to a loss in physician income. Rather, physician incomes grew more quickly than those of other Canadians and are considerably greater. In short, the medical-income argument against moving toward a Canadian-style system is feeble.

The universal, single-payer system has been good not only for Canadians but also for their doctors.


By Don McCanne, MD

The experience with single payer in Canada has revealed that not only were physicians’ incomes not harmed, physicians remain the top earners in the country. This article should allay the fears of U.S. physicians who would like to see us achieve a health care system that ensures quality health care for all but who remain apprehensive that their incomes might be adversely affected. As this report states, “The universal, single-payer system has been good not only for Canadians but also for their doctors.”

Re-posted with permission from