Canadian health care better than we think

August 16, 2004 | Capital Times [Madison]

by Dave Zweifel

Thanks to years of propaganda from the giant corporations with a vested interest in the U.S. health system, Americans have a somewhat jaundiced view of Canada’s national health insurance program.

We’re told that Canadians have to wait for simple procedures and that there are huge waiting lines for surgery. Doctors aren’t compensated adequately. We’ve been told that so often that we think it’s true. Almost all of it, however, is false.

The Canadian plan sometimes is short of money as government there, like here, is constantly under pressure to make cuts. But Canada’s single-payer program functions much better than our system. We spend an incredible $1.6 trillion for health care every year under our convoluted system, but still have 45 million citizens without any coverage. At a minimum in Canada everyone has health care and at a much lesser cost.

Pat Cornwell, one of this column’s regular readers, sent me an article written by a Canadian doctor after he and a group of colleagues spent some time working in our U.S. health system. Suffice it to say that America’s health insurers and drug companies aren’t passing the article around.

It was printed recently in Public Citizen’s health letter to underscore how messed up our health system has become.

“I just don’t get it,” the Canadian doc began. “Health care in America and the present debate regarding its reform don’t make any sense to me – no way. Even now, with a year’s stateside experience under my belt, I am still utterly baffled by what seems to be incompatibility between apparent fundamentals of the U.S. health care system and its professed goal of improving American health.

“Many Americans have tried diligently to explain their system to us but we’re still perplexed. And to compound perplexity, even while we were struggling to understand the American system of health care delivery, we were challenged from every side to defend the Canadian one. This was not totally unexpected, but the overload of misinformation among Americans about Canadian health care definitely was.”

He goes on to question why Americans have this compulsion to link health care and employment.

“What does being employed have to do with need for health care? Don’t the jobless also get sick?” he asked. “It seems to me that if you are so unlucky as to become ill enough to require health care, this may limit your opportunities for current or future employment.”

The doctor also wonders why the U.S. system has separate health programs for different groups: “gold-plated plans for the affluent, more meager plans for the less well-off, Medicaid for the poor (some of the poor, to be strictly accurate), Medicare for the elderly and disabled?”

But what perplexes him most about the U.S. system is why Americans don’t demand that adequate health care be defined as a universal human right.

“America has led the world in establishing ‘rights’ to many things … is it not time for a ‘right’ to adequate health care, extended to and enjoyed by all?” he wrote.

Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.

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