As much as I’ve tried so far to keep my nose out of the health care reform circus that’s happening with our dear neighbours to the south, I can’t resist sharing a wee dose of reality from Canada (also known to some Americans as “Commie Pinko Land of Socialized Medicine”).
A piece in the Washington Post reminded me this week that, in other democracies of the developed world, patients are somehow receiving medical care that is not only universal, it’s actually considered better and cheaper than care in America.
In fact, the World Health Organization now ranks the U.S. 37th in the world in terms of quality health care access. American infant mortality rates (an oft-quoted criterion for how well countries are caring for their citizens) are double those of most Western countries. Almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does.
The U.S. health care system forces over 700,000 Americans to declare bankruptcy every year. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero. Canada: zero. Yet I’ve actually read warnings from U.S. health reform opponents that reform will somehow mean a slippery slope towards the ‘horrors of Canadian medicine”. Seriously.
The horrors of Canadian medicine? They must be talking about the other Canada, the one I’ve never been to. The Canada I’ve actually known all my life has had universal health care ever since the days of Tommy Douglas, the prairie preacher from Saskatchewan and our iconic ‘Father of Medicare’. Tommy first introduced a universal hospital insurance program to his province in 1947 when he was the premier of Saskatchewan. His government then introduced the first public health care program in 1962. (Interestingly, Saskatchewan doctors walked out in protest fearing their incomes would be reduced, but the strike collapsed after three weeks).
Many doctors - particularly those running the Canadian Medical Association who own for-profit medical imaging labs – are still known to loudly favour a move to America-style privately-delivered health care in Canada, even though over 85% of Canadians report satisfaction with our current public health care system.
But I digress . . .
Back in 1966, the Canadian government followed its prairie province’s lead with a national health plan in which all citizens would receive portable, comprehensive and universal access to necessary physician and hospital services, regardless of their ability to pay.
Canadians do love our universal health care concept; in 2004, a nationally televised CBC contest named Tommy Douglas The Greatest Canadian of all time.
As a result of Tommy’s vision of government-funded medical care for all, my recent heart attack and subsequent medical care in a world-class heart institute here cost me not one penny. I paid nothing for my E.R. visits, all cardiac tests and procedures, medical and nursing care, all drugs while in hospital, my stay in the Coronary Care Unit, hospital bed, and all follow-up visits with my cardiologist and other specialists. And I will never get a bill for any of this truly outstanding cardiac care.
Even though I had a heart attack, I will never lose my home, my business, have an insurance company deny my claims, worry that my heart attack now means a pre-existing condition that makes me ineligible for any future care, declare bankruptcy due to crushing medical debt, or have a collection agency at the door because I haven’t paid the hospital bills from my last cardiac event.
All of these things have happened to heart patients I know in the U.S. Our Canadian health care system is certainly not perfect, very far from it – but I can’t even imagine trading it for the nightmares listed above that my American heart sisters have told me about their own health care.
Former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid appears to agree with me.
He decided to travel the world from Oslo to Osaka to investigate how other developed democracies provide health care to their citizens. He explained:
“Foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people’s medical bills, not to make a profit.
“The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage. Instead of dismissing foreign health care models as ‘socialist’, we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems.”
But to do that, he claims, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:
- It’s all socialized medicine out there.
- Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.
- Foreign health care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.
- Cost controls stifle innovation.
- Health insurance has to be cruel.”
Wrong, all wrong, according to Reid. If you’re interested in the facts – instead of hysterical town hall fear-mongering – learn how these five myths are exploded in T.R. Reid’s eye-opening article called Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World.
Also read Bob Hepburn‘s article in the Toronto Star: Why I’d Rather Be Sick Here Than in the U.S.