Take Two Aspirin and Call Me In November.
The following was from AlterNet, and/or Tom Paine website. If Healthcare is going to be a major issue on the table this election, here’s some information from a Canadian about that country’s coverage. After the ’08 elections, American insurance companies will dust off “Harry & Louise” to scare us all to death that we’ll all die in the streets like dawgs if we even think about a “Medicare For All” type national health coverage, but before the lies start, maybe a little information is in order.
Additionally, while the dialogue is going on, people really need to think about the numbers – most especially the hidden numbers – cost to treat the uninsured, cost of not treating the uninsured until things reach a crisis stage, cost of lost productivity, cost of high “administrative fees” out of each health-care dollar that goes, not for health care, but for CEO salaries and high profits for investors, cost to businesses who have to compete with international national companies that have national health insurance while they’ve got the full cost of a private system on their books, the loss to the system of doctors leaving practice out of sheer frustration of dealing with the insurance mess, and so forth. Add those hidden costs up and compare them with what the Canadians pay, and the French and British, and then maybe we can have a national dialogue.
Oh, and while we’re talking, consider this recent headline: “Physicians enlisted in canceling insurance – Blue Cross asks doctors to look for conditions it can use to drop patients from medical coverage.” Naturally, doctors are objecting to this new plan. As one put it, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality.” Rat patients out so the bottom line of the insurance company looks better and the CEO can get another gazillion dollar raise? Hey, sounds like a first rate medical plan to me.
10 Myths About Canadian Health Care, Busted
By Sara Robinson, TomPaine.comPosted on February 5, 2008, Printed on February 7, 2008http://www.alternet.org/story/76032/
2008 is shaping up to be the election year that we finally get to have the Great American Healthcare Debate again. Harry and Louise are back with a vengeance. Conservatives are rumbling around the talk show circuit bellowing about the socialist threat to the (literal) American body politic. And, as usual, Canada is once again getting dragged into the fracas, shoved around by both sides as either an exemplar or a warning -- and, along the way, getting coated with the obfuscating dust of so many willful misconceptions that the actual facts about How Canada Does It are completely lost in the melee.
I'm both a health-care-card-carrying Canadian resident and an uninsured American citizen who regularly sees doctors on both sides of the border. As such, I'm in a unique position to address the pros and cons of both systems first-hand. If we're going to have this conversation, it would be great if we could start out (for once) with actual facts, instead of ideological posturing, wishful thinking, hearsay, and random guessing about how things get done up here.
To that end, here's the first of a two-part series aimed at busting the common myths Americans routinely tell each other about Canadian health care. When the right-wing hysterics drag out these hoary old bogeymen, this time, we need to be armed and ready to blast them into straw. Because, mostly, straw is all they're made of.
1. Canada's health care system is "socialized medicine."False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide. The proper term for this is "single-payer insurance." In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is "Medicare for all."
2. Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care.True and False. Doctors in Canada do make less than their US counterparts. But they also have lower overhead, and usually much better working conditions. A few reasons for this:
First, as noted, they don't have to charge higher fees to cover the salary of a full-time staffer to deal with over a hundred different insurers, all of whom are bent on denying care whenever possible. In fact, most Canadian doctors get by quite nicely with just one assistant, who cheerfully handles the phones, mail, scheduling, patient reception, stocking, filing, and billing all by herself in the course of a standard workday.
Second, they don't have to spend several hours every day on the phone cajoling insurance company bean counters into doing the right thing by their patients. My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid -- quietly, quickly, and without hassle. There is no runaround. There are no fights. Appointments aren't interrupted by vexing phone calls. Care is seldom denied (because everybody knows the rules). She gets her checks on time, sees her patients on schedule, takes Thursdays off, and gets home in time for dinner.
One unsurprising side effect of all this is that the doctors I see here are, to a person, more focused, more relaxed, more generous with their time, more up-to-date in their specialties, and overall much less distracted from the real work of doctoring. You don't realize how much stress the American doctor-insurer fights put on the day-to-day quality of care until you see doctors who don't operate under that stress, because they never have to fight those battles at all. Amazingly: they seem to enjoy their jobs.
Third: The average American medical student graduates $140,000 in hock. The average Canadian doctor's debt is roughly half that.
Finally, Canadian doctors pay lower malpractice insurance fees. When paying for health care constitutes a one of a family's major expenses, expectations tend to run very high. A doctor's mistake not only damages the body; it may very well throw a middle-class family permanently into the ranks of the working poor, and render the victim uninsurable for life. With so much at stake, it's no wonder people are quick to rush to court for redress.
Canadians are far less likely to sue in the first place, since they're not having to absorb devastating financial losses in addition to any physical losses when something goes awry. The cost of the damaging treatment will be covered. So will the cost of fixing it. And, no matter what happens, the victim will remain insured for life. When lawsuits do occur, the awards don't have to include coverage for future medical costs, which reduces the insurance company's liability.
3. Wait times in Canada are horrendous.True and False again -- it depends on which province you live in, and what's wrong with you. Canada's health care system runs on federal guidelines that ensure uniform standards of care, but each territory and province administers its own program. Some provinces don't plan their facilities well enough; in those, you can have waits. Some do better. As a general rule, the farther north you live, the harder it is to get to care, simply because the doctors and hospitals are concentrated in the south. But that's just as true in any rural county in the U.S.
You can hear the bitching about it no matter where you live, though. The percentage of Canadians who'd consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country's health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.). In spite of that, though, grousing about health care is still unofficially Canada's third national sport after curling and hockey.
And for the country's newspapers, it's a prime watchdogging opportunity. Any little thing goes sideways at the local hospital, and it's on the front pages the next day. Those kinds of stories sell papers, because everyone is invested in that system and has a personal stake in how well it functions. The American system might benefit from this kind of constant scrutiny, because it's certainly one of the things that keeps the quality high. But it also makes people think it's far worse than it is.
Critics should be reminded that the American system is not exactly instant-on, either. When I lived in California, I had excellent insurance, and got my care through one of the best university-based systems in the nation. Yet I routinely had to wait anywhere from six to twelve weeks to get in to see a specialist. Non-emergency surgical waits could be anywhere from four weeks to four months. After two years in the BC system, I'm finding the experience to be pretty much comparable, and often better. The notable exception is MRIs, which were easy in California, but can take many months to get here. (It's the number one thing people go over the border for.) Other than that, urban Canadians get care about as fast as urban Americans do.
4. You have to wait forever to get a family doctor.False for the vast majority of Canadians, but True for a few. Again, it all depends on where you live. I live in suburban Vancouver, and there are any number of first-rate GPs in my neighborhood who are taking new patients. If you don't have a working relationship with one, but need to see a doctor now, there are 24-hour urgent care clinics in most neighborhoods that will usually get you in and out on the minor stuff in under an hour.
It is, absolutely, harder to get to a doctor if you live out in a small town, or up in the territories. But that's just as true in the U.S. -- and in America, the government won't cover the airfare for rural folk to come down to the city for needed treatment, which all the provincial plans do.
5. You don't get to choose your own doctor.Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don't get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!
For the record: Canadians pick their own doctors, just like Americans do. And not only that: since it all pays the same, poor Canadians have exactly the same access to the country's top specialists that rich ones do.
6. Canada's care plan only covers the basics. You're still on your own for any extras, including prescription drugs. And you still have to pay for it.True -- but not as big an issue as you might think. The province does charge a small monthly premium (ours is $108/month for a family of four) for the basic coverage. However, most people never even have to write that check: almost all employers pick up the tab for their employees' premiums as part of the standard benefits package; and the province covers it for people on public assistance or disability.
"The basics" covered by this plan include 100% of all doctor's fees, ambulance fares, tests, and everything that happens in a hospital -- in other words, the really big-ticket items that routinely drive American families into bankruptcy. In BC, it doesn't include "extras" like medical equipment, prescriptions, physical therapy or chiropractic care, dental, vision, and so on; and if you want a private or semi-private room with TV and phone, that costs extra (about what you'd pay for a room in a middling hotel). That other stuff does add up; but it's far easier to afford if you're not having to cover the big expenses, too. Furthermore: you can deduct any out-of-pocket health expenses you do have to pay off your income taxes. And, as every American knows by now, drugs aren't nearly as expensive here, either.
Filling the gap between the basics and the extras is the job of the country's remaining private health insurers. Since they're off the hook for the ruinously expensive big-ticket items that can put their own profits at risk, the insurance companies make a tidy business out of offering inexpensive policies that cover all those smaller, more predictable expenses. Top-quality add-on policies typically run in the ballpark of $75 per person in a family per month -- about $300 for a family of four -- if you're stuck buying an individual plan. Group plans are cheap enough that even small employers can afford to offer them as a routine benefit. An average working Canadian with employer-paid basic care and supplemental insurance gets free coverage equal to the best policies now only offered at a few of America's largest corporations. And that employer is probably only paying a couple hundred dollars a month to provide that benefit.
7. Canadian drugs are not the same.More preposterious bogosity. They are exactly the same drugs, made by the same pharmaceutical companies, often in the same factories. The Canadian drug distribution system, however, has much tighter oversight; and pharmacies and pharmacists are more closely regulated. If there is a difference in Canadian drugs at all, they're actually likely to be safer.
Also: pharmacists here dispense what the doctors tell them to dispense, the first time, without moralizing. I know. It's amazing.
8. Publicly-funded programs will inevitably lead to rationed health care, particularly for the elderly.False. And bogglingly so. The papers would have a field day if there was the barest hint that this might be true.
One of the things that constantly amazes me here is how well-cared-for the elderly and disabled you see on the streets here are. No, these people are not being thrown out on the curb. In fact, they live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because they're getting a constant level of care that ensures small things get treated before they become big problems.
The health care system also makes it easier on their caregiving adult children, who have more time to look in on Mom and take her on outings because they aren't working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance.
9. People won't be responsible for their own health if they're not being forced to pay for the consequences.False. The philosophical basis of America's privatized health care system might best be characterized as medical Calvinism. It's fascinating to watch well-educated secularists who recoil at the Protestant obsession with personal virtue, prosperity as a cardinal sign of election by God, and total responsibility for one's own salvation turn into fire-eyed, moralizing True Believers when it comes to the subject of Taking Responsibility For One's Own Health.
They'll insist that health, like salvation, is entirely in our own hands. If you just have the character and self-discipline to stick to an abstemious regime of careful diet, clean living, and frequent sweat offerings to the Great Treadmill God, you'll never get sick. (Like all good theologies, there's even an unspoken promise of immortality: f you do it really really right, they imply, you might even live forever.) The virtuous Elect can be discerned by their svelte figures and low cholesterol numbers. From here, it's a short leap to the conviction that those who suffer from chronic conditions are victims of their own weaknesses, and simply getting what they deserve. Part of their punishment is being forced to pay for the expensive, heavily marketed pharmaceuticals needed to alleviate these avoidable illnesses. They can't complain. It was their own damned fault; and it's not our responsibility to pay for their sins. In fact, it's recently been suggested that they be shunned, lest they lead the virtuous into sin.
Of course, this is bad theology whether you're applying it to the state of one's soul or one's arteries. The fact is that bad genes, bad luck, and the ravages of age eventually take their toll on all of us -- even the most careful of us. The economics of the Canadian system reflect this very different philosophy: it's built on the belief that maintaining health is not an individual responsibility, but a collective one. Since none of us controls fate, the least we can do is be there for each other as our numbers come up.
This difference is expressed in a few different ways. First: Canadians tend to think of tending to one's health as one of your duties as a citizen. You do what's right because you don't want to take up space in the system, or put that burden on your fellow taxpayers. Second, "taking care of yourself" has a slightly expanded definition here, which includes a greater emphasis on public health. Canadians are serious about not coming to work if you're contagious, and seeing a doctor ASAP if you need to. Staying healthy includes not only diet and exercise; but also taking care to keep your germs to yourself, avoiding stress, and getting things treated while they're still small and cheap to fix.
Third, there's a somewhat larger awareness that stress leads to big-ticket illnesses -- and a somewhat lower cultural tolerance for employers who put people in high-stress situations. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for their greed. And finally, there's a generally greater acceptance on the part of both the elderly and their families that end-of-life heroics may be drawing resources away from people who might put them to better use. You can have them if you want them; but reasonable and compassionate people should be able to take the larger view.
The bottom line: When it comes to getting people to make healthy choices, appealing to their sense of the common good seems to work at least as well as Calvinist moralizing.
10. This all sounds great -- but the taxes to cover it are just unaffordable. And besides, isn't the system in bad financial shape?False. On one hand, our annual Canadian tax bite runs about 10% higher than our U.S. taxes did. On the other, we're not paying out the equivalent of two new car payments every month to keep the family insured here. When you balance out the difference, we're actually money ahead. When you factor in the greatly increased social stability that follows when everybody's getting their necessary health care, the impact on our quality of life becomes even more signficant.
And True -- but only because this is a universal truth that we need to make our peace with. Yes, the provincial plans are always struggling. So is every single publicly-funded health care system in the world, including the VA and Medicare. There's always tension between what the users of the system want, and what the taxpayers are willing to pay. The balance of power ebbs and flows between them; but no matter where it lies at any given moment, at least one of the pair is always going to be at least somewhat unhappy.
But, as many of us know all too well, there's also constant tension between what patients want and what private insurers are willing to pay. At least when it's in government hands, we can demand some accountability. And my experience in Canada has convinced me that this accountability is what makes all the difference between the two systems.
It is true that Canada's system is not the same as the U.S. system. It's designed to deliver a somewhat different product, to a population that has somewhat different expectations. But the end result is that the vast majority of Canadians get the vast majority of what they need the vast majority of the time. It'll be a good day when when Americans can hold their heads high and proudly make that same declaration.
Published on OurFuture.org (http://www.ourfuture.org)
Mythbusting Canadian Healthcare, Part II: Debunking the Free Marketeers
By Sara Robinson
Created 02/11/2008 - 5:55pm
In the previous post, I looked at ten of the most common myths that get bandied about whenever Americans drag Canada into their ongoing discussions about healthcare. In this follow-up, I'd like to address a few of the larger assumptions that Americans make about health care that are contradicted by the Canadian example; and in the process offer some more general thinking (and perhaps talking) points that may be useful in the debates ahead.
Government-run health care is inherently less efficient -- because governments themselves are inherently less efficient.If anything could finally put the lie to this old conservative canard, the disaster that is our health care system is Exhibit A.
America spends about 15% of its GDP on health care. Most other industrialized countries (all of whom have some form of universal care, either single-payer or entirely government-run) spend about 11-12%. Canada spends about 8-9% -- and most of the problems within their system come out of the fact that it's chronically underfunded compared to those other nations. If they spent what the UK or Germany do, those problems would mostly vanish.
Any system that has people spending more and getting less is, by definition, not efficient. And these efficiency leaks are, almost entirely, due to private greed. There is no logical way that a private system can pay eight-figure CEO compensation packages, turn a handsome a profit for shareholders, and still be "efficient." In fact, in order to deliver those profits and salaries, the American system has built up a vast, Kafkaesque administrative machinery of approval, denial, and fraud management, which inflates the US system's administrative costs to well over double that seen in other countries -- or even in our own public systems, including Medicare and the VA system.
Not incidentally: one of the benefits of single-payer health care is that it largely eliminates the entire issue of "fraud." You can only "cheat" a system that already views its primary business as rationing and withholding care. In Canada, where the system is set up to deliver health care instead of profits, and medical access is considered a right, this whole oversight machinery is far cheaper and more compact. In general, the system trusts doctors and patients to make the right choices the first time. As a result, people generally don't have to lie, cheat, and grovel to get the system to deliver the care they need. They just go and get it -- and walk out without a moment's dread about the bills.
Shareholder profit, inflated CEO salaries, and top-heavy administration -- all of which serve to work against the delivery of care, not facilitate it -- are anti-efficiencies that siphon off 20-25% of America's total health care spending. These are huge sums; yet it's mostly money down a gold-plated rathole. In the end, it doesn't provide a single bed, pay a single nurse or doctor, or treat a single patient.
We'll have rationed careDon't look now: but America does ration care. And it does it in the most capricious, draconian, and often dishonest way possible.
Mostly, the US system rations care by simply eliminating large numbers of people from the system due to an inability to pay. Last year, one-quarter of all Americans didn't go to a doctor when they needed one because they couldn't afford it. Nearly that many skipped getting a test, treatment, prescription, or follow-up appointment recommended by a doctor. In Canada, those same numbers are in the 4-5% range; in the UK, 2-3%. Also: nearly 20% of all Americans had a hard time paying a medical bill last year; and these stresses now trigger over half of all personal bankruptcies in the country.
Furthermore, nominally having health insurance is no guarantee against financial ruin, as Sicko amply illustrated. Being cut off or denied by your insurance company is rationing, too. And there are vast numbers of fairly well-off Americans -- many of them middle-aged, and too young for Medicare -- who have pre-existing conditions that render them uninsurable at any price. They're one heart attack, one diabetic event, or one bad turn away from financial disaster. Please don't insult these people by telling them that the American system doesn't ration care.
Another persistent (and ridiculously mendacious) rationing myth about the Canadian system is that old people are cut off from treatment and left to die. I've never heard about a single case of this in Canada; but it happens routinely to Americans on Medicare and many private policies, which have strict limits on how long you can stay in the hospital with an acute illness. When the benefits run out, ready or not, they send you home. If you die, you die. The Canadian plan has no such limits: you stay for as long as you need to. But in the US, these limits fit the very definition of "rationed care."
Effectively shutting one-quarter of the population out of the medical system entirely, and putting many of the rest on short rations, certainly does make things so much nicer for those happy few who are still in it. In fact, Americans have these missing millions to thank for their system's impressively short wait times. Only 4% of American have to wait more than six months for non-elective surgeries, while 14-15% of Canadian and Britons do. (Don't blame this on government care, though: in Germany and the Netherlands, the number is closer to 2%.) When conservatives start bellowing about Canada's terrifying wait times (which, by the way, are carefully triaged: it's rare for people to die waiting, though it happens), we need to remind them that there are 75 million Americans who have been wait-listed forever. If my friend's Aunt Millie gets her emergency hip surgery today because I'm willing to hobble along for an extra couple months before getting my knee surgery -- well, for any morally serious person, that choice should be a complete no-brainer.
You can't have medical innovation without the incentives provided by the free market.As in the US, Canada's government funds major medical research that has led to a continuous stream of new medical breakthroughs . (And as this link shows, the rate of innovation didn't slow down in the least when Canada moved to single-payer in the 1960s.) All of the country's medical schools are located within public research universities. The university that houses my local medical school, the University of British Columbia, ranked ninth in North America last year -- in league with UC, Stanford, and other powerhouses -- in total public and private research grants received by its labs. Among other things, it leads the way in genetics (David Suzuki is emeritus faculty), and stem-cell research (having attracted a handsome roster of American scientists whose research was thwarted by the political situation at home).
Because the Canadian health care system is driven by delivering care instead of profits, the focus of research is sometimes different -- and often wider-ranging. While there's plenty of pursuit of patents and innovations, there's also considerable research put into questioning whether new treatments are really more effective than older ones; and in pursuing possible treatments that may not be patentable by anyone. The system is focused first on what works; and after that, on what might make someone some money.
Single-payer health care will make America less competitive.I can't believe people still have the gall to argue this point, but apparently, they do. There are several reasons this is flat-out wrong:
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs -- It's no secret that public health care is making Canada a more attractive business environment for large manufacturers, who typically have very high insurance overhead. Toyota and GM have both moved plants to Canada in recent years, in large part to avoid the spiraling costs of insuring American workers. (Toyota also cited Canada's better-educated workers, but that's another issue for another day.) As long as $900 of every car GM makes is going to supply health care to the people who make it, the US's current system of employer-based health care is going to continue to drive skilled jobs out of the country.
A Smarter, More Entreprenurial Workforce -- Being relieved of insurance worries also makes individual citizens more competitive. How would your life choices change if you didn't have to worry about health care? Would you go back to school and get your PhD in lepidoptery? Start a blog -- or a small business? Work part-time and travel? Tell your boss where he can stick it? Spend a few years at home with your kids?
Countries with universal coverage free up their citizens to take advantage of personal development opportunities that, in the long run, stimulate the economy and create a more skilled, traveled, educated, and fulfilled workforce. Americans, on the other hand, routinely stay chained to jobs they hate -- and are forced to pass up on chances to expand their horizons and their fortunes -- because they can't afford to jeopardize their health care coverage. Our health care mess has reached a point where it jeopardizes not only our lives, but also our liberty and our ability to pursue happiness -- as well as the long-term strength of the economy as a whole.
Increased Financial and Social Capital -- When families are bankrupted by medical bills, or are thrown into poverty when a working member is disabled because they can't afford proper care, or simply break down and fall apart under the stress of debt and illness, it's not long before the country's entire social fabric begins to show the wear and tear -- along with the sense of optimism and the common good required for a democracy to function.
Part of what makes a country competitive is its own commitment to the common good. I've often been impressed by the very tangible sense of civic pride and shared effort my Canadian neighbors have in the fact that they're taking the best possible care of their own, regardless of status, age, or ethnicity. Every encounter with the medical system reminds them that they're all in this together. A medical system that routinely drives families into bankruptcy or divorce court is actively destroying, rather than adding to, the essential social capital that makes the whole society function.
No Deferred Maintenance -- Decades of foregone medical care are starting to catch up with Americans. We're seeing serious declines on many fronts: infant mortality, lifespan, cancer rates, heart disease rates, and increased diabetes. On most of the major markers of public health, America is nowhere near the top tier anymore. In some areas, there are a few small former Communist countries doing better than we are.
Business relies on healthy workers who aren't distracted by their own illness or that of a family member. America's uninsured, increasingly unhealthy workforce is in no position to compete on equal terms with the strong, healthy workers of other countries who are getting the care they deserve.
We have more important matters to tend to -- like national security and the war.Getting everyone insured is, unequivocally, a clear matter of national security.
Our every-man-for-himself attitude toward health care is a security threat on a par with unsecured ports. In Canada, people go see the doctor if they're sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country's health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.
In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease -- and thus at greater risk of death themselves -- every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.
Worse: America's underfunded public health system might have taken several days to piece together the whole picture of an epidemic; and perhaps another week or two might have passed before the E. Coli conservatives in charge (having thrown out the science-based management plans thoughtfully developed by the bureaucracy) cooked up some kind of half-assed ideology-driven decision about how to proceed. (It would, of course, involve spectacular amounts of lying to the public.) By that point, tens of millions could have been infected, leading to a death toll that would make 9/11 and Katrina look like minor statistical blips.
Think about superbugs and the ongoing waves of immunological imports from the world's swamps and jungles. Think about terrorists with bioweapons. And then think again about the undeniable fact that every single underinsured American is a gaping hole in the safety net that protects us all from a catastrophic epidemic. This really is one of those cases in which none of us are safe as long as even one of us is left at risk. And from a purely economic standpoint: would you want to invest in a country where there was a significant risk that an epidemic or a bio-attack, managed by incompetent officials, might force you to shut down your business at a moment's notice?
As for the war: Bush's Folly will generate upwards of half a million veterans, many of whom will require some kind of sustaining care for the rest of their lives. VA funding ebbs and flows with the national political will, and veterans often fall behind other priorities. But if they can enter the same health care system every other American depends on, then we can only forget their interests by forgetting our own as well.
I feel a lot better knowing my taxes are taking care of my fellow Canadians rather than buying bombs to drop on Iraqi towns, supporting a fully-equipped CIA gulag, or funding Baghdad pizza deliveries via Halliburton. It's hard to become a worldwide empire when you're putting half your tax revenue into hospitals and doctors, as Canada does. But, on the other hand, it's hard to insure your citizens when half your tax revenue is going to feed your war machine.
In a very real sense, America has chosen to secure its oil supply at the cost of its own citizens' health. The more we spend on the former, the less we have for the latter. And our own relative health -- both physical and economic -- is starting to show the consequences of that choice. Ultimately, all these things are connected: by making ourselves energy independent, we might not only make ourselves more secure, we'll also finally be able to invest in the kind of health care that will make us truly competitive in the world community.
The Bottom LineIn America, a lucky employee with gold-plated employer-based coverage may well get access to A-level care (though that level of coverage becoming rarer by the month, even among the professional classes). On the other hand, about 50 million under-insured Americans are barely scraping by with C or D-level care; and the nearly 50 million with no insurance at all get next to no care whatsoever. Worst of all: 18,000 Americans die every year due to lack of access to healthcare. That's one every 30 minutes, around the clock, every day of the year -- the equivalent death toll of six 9/11s every single year that passes.
In Canada, everybody gets at least B-level care, pretty consistently across the board -- and, on occasion, quite a bit better than that. You might not like those odds if you're one of the shrinking handful of Americans who's used to A-level care; but if that's not you, you'd be getting a much better deal in Canada.
The private sector has had 20 years to prove that it could deliver low-cost, quality care using those vaunted business-style efficiencies; and it has failed us utterly and completely. This fact should be the ultimate nail in the coffin of the old conservative canard that "the free market always does it better." If that was true, privatizing health care would have been the shining example that proved it once and for all. Instead, all we got was a colossally expensive national disaster that's denying full coverage to a third of the country --- and putting our health, competitiveness, financial and social capital, and national security at risk in the process. It's also devastating the aspirations of our entire middle class, which is being hollowed out by our current health policies.
A famous Hebrew prophet once advised his followers to take the log out of their own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else's. As much as it hurts American pride to admit it, Canada and the rest of the industrialized world has us roundly beat on this one. Those who are so quick to criticize the Canadian system might be better off holding their fire until they've shown us they can do better. America, and the world, is waiting.
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Sara Robinson is a twenty-year veteran of Silicon Valley, and is launching a second career as a strategic foresight analyst. When she's not studying change theories and reactionary movements, you can find her singing the alto part over at Orcinus. She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and two teenagers.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/76032/