Just hours after his party passed a health care bill that would take insurance away from millions of people, President Trump said Australia’s universal health care system was better than America’s privately run one.
"It's going to be fantastic health care," Trump said, referring to the GOP’s new health plan during a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday evening. "I shouldn't say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better health care than we do."
Trump is right on that point. Australia’s universal health care system, known as Medicare, provides high-quality health care with far more efficiency than the US’s.
In 2014, its primarily government-funded system ranked sixth out of 55 countries in efficiency, while the US ranked 44th. While the Australian government spent 9 percent of its GDP on health care, the US spent nearly double that — 17 percent. A 2014 Commonwealth Fund report found that Australia ranked second in quality care out of 11 affluent nations, while the US ranked fifth. And it does this all while providing health care to everyone in society — something that America’s system, even with Obamacare still in place, does not.
Trump has in the past expressed affection for government-run systems that provide universal coverage. Back in 2000 as a potential presidential candidate, Trump described Canadian-style single-payer health care as something the US should consider. When asked about it on the campaign trail last year, he again praised Canada’s single-payer system, as well as Scotland’s publicly funded health care. He argued the US should remain with a private system, but he knows that those systems work and likes the fact that they provide universal coverage.
Which makes his strong support for the program that his party is trying to pass all the more surprising.
If fully enacted — something far from guaranteed given the Senate’s skepticism of the bill — the American Health Care Act would take the US even further away from universal coverage. The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t run the numbers on the latest version of the Republican health care program, but the earlier version of the bill before the latest amendments found that 24 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 if it became law. It could also end up raising premiums on sicker people and abolish key protections for people with preexisting convictions.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most prominent advocate for single-payer health care in the US, was quick to exploit Trump’s admission. When the clip of Trump making the statement was played for him during an appearance on MCNBC, he laughed with delight. “The president has just said it. That's great!” he said.
He then tweeted a promise to troll Trump about it in the future:
Thank you Mr. Trump for admitting that universal health care is the better way to go. I'll be sure to quote you on the floor of the Senate. pic.twitter.com/GTFRHiKw6k— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 5, 2017
In an attempt to push back against the criticism of his comments, Trump sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon suggesting that he harbored no special preference for Australian health care — and that Obamacare was to blame for how poor American health care is.
“Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do — everybody does,” he wrote. “ObamaCare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great.”
We’ll see if he can convince the public of that.