President Obama defended Canada's health care system on Monday, telling a Canadian reporter in Mexico that his country is often used as a "bogeyman" for the debate that has engulfed U.S. reform efforts.
However, the president said he is not looking to duplicate the Canadian model at home.
"I don't find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the opponents of reform think that they make a good bogeyman," Obama said with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper by his side.
"I suspect that you Canadians will continue to get dragged in by those who oppose reform, even though I've said nothing about Canadian health care reform," he told the reporter during a press conference at the North American Leaders Summit.
Obama said the United States spends the most money per person on health care but some measures show the U.S. doesn't rank at the top in terms of outcomes.
"We're not doing better than a lot of other advanced, developed countries that are spending much less per person," he said.
The president, however, said he wouldn't use the Canadian model because the U.S. system has already been built around "a private-based health care system that stands side-by-side" with Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Administration health care.
"I've said that the Canadian model works for Canada. It would not work for the United States, in part simply because we've evolved differently," he said. "So, we've got to develop a uniquely American approach to this problem."
Canada annually spends $3,600 per capita on health care -- almost half of what is spent in the United States. Harper said that Canadians support their system, and the American debate is just that.
The Canadian system is not without its problems, however. Critics lament the shortage of doctors, long waits for some treatments and substandard care while provincial governments responsible for universal care try to figure out how to maintain fair access while private clinics emerge to provide service to individuals willing to pay the out-of-pocket expenses.
Back in the United States, Obama said 46 million or 47 million people in the United States don't have health insurance and those who do are always at risk of losing theirs because of pre-existing conditions or job changes.
He said he wants a system that "continues the role of the private marketplace, but provides people who don't have health insurance or have fallen through the cracks in the private marketplace a realistic and meaningful option."
The president added that the cost of medical care is going to force every country to look at the way patients are treated at home because "everybody's budget's going to be put under severe strain" because of the need for improved care.