Don’t Let Conservatives Badmouth Our Northern Neighbors’ Health Care

Conservatives are notorious for slandering or demonizing foreign nations when they act in ways wisely contrary to hidebound right-wing dogma.

Remember, for instance, when France didn’t support the illegal Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq, a debacle that was incredibly called a “crusade” by our foolish past president, and which has needlessly killed perhaps over a million people.

France and “Old Europe,” where antiwar protests were commonly huge, were condemned by the reactionary Republican base. Who will ever forget the ridiculous absurdity of indignant conservatives renaming French fries “freedom fries”? No wonder goofy Sarah Palin later became their darling.

Well, they’re at it again, claiming that Canadian “socialized medicine” is an unmitigated disaster. It costs a fortune in taxes, they say, and features unacceptable service delays and denials.

But that simply isn’t so, as any fair-minded, honest appraisal readily reveals.

In truth, Canadians pay just a fractionally higher amount in taxes than we do. However, they get a substantially greater public-welfare bang for their buck.

As Rhonda Hackett of the Denver Post put it, “Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash.”

Then there’s the assertion that Canadians allegedly can’t get care when they need it (callously overlooking the plight of 50 million Americans without any medical insurance whatsoever!).

Hackett’s June 7th article also addressed that canard:

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don’t get one no matter what your doctor thinks — unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

Most compelling is what a Canadian poster over at Common Dreams recently said:

Last year, I was found to have a genetically defective heart valve that required open-heart surgery. In coming to that conclusion, I underwent several very expensive diagnostic procedures for which there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAITING PERIOD. The operation itself involved a team of surgeons, a team of anestheticists, a team of profusionists and several nurses. Again, ABSOLUTELY NO WAITING PERIOD. After the surgery, I spent ten days in intensive post-op care. The cost in the U.S. — hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost here in Canada — ZERO.

Desperate to keep their profitable medical stranglehold on the American masses, Big Pharma and insurance giants, with full Republican complicity, are dipping deeply into their bag of dirty tricks.

One of those is a very misleading TV ad currently making the rounds. It features a Canadian woman who went to the United States for purported lifesaving surgery for a brain tumor that Canadian doctors supposedly wouldn’t perform.

In fact, as reported by Julie Mason of the Ottawa Citizen on July 20th, she actually had a “Rathke’s Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. To quote an American source, the John Wayne Cancer Center, ‘Rathke’s Cleft Cysts are not true tumors or neoplasms; instead they are benign cysts.’”

The lady was given appropriate appointments with Ontario specialists but chose not to wait the reasonable period. Her resulting surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona cost $97,000.

Interestingly, that case is being pumped by Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, whose state has an average yearly income of just over $37,000. It sure looks like his constituents could use affordable health care!

Perhaps the best-stated case for why our country desperately needs health care change came from Democratic Ohio Congressman and former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, speaking not long ago to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

The insurance companies have almost a death grip on our political system. And they can have so much power that they can exclude 50 million people and trap another 50 million in confiscatory premiums, co-pays and deductibles, just jettison millions of Americans into bankruptcy. And yet, we still have this system. And people are saying, ‘Well, you know, we can’t have a government-run system’ Well, frankly, we tried this system controlled by private insurers, and it’s been a calamity for America.

Let’s quite trashing our friends north of the border, adopt what they and the rest of industrialized humanity have done right, and put an end to the grim reality of routinely seeing “spaghetti feed” fund-raiser signs and collection cans at U.S. supermarket checkouts for grievously ill Americans who can’t afford vital, genuinely lifesaving medical care.

And whose names appear next in newspaper obituaries.

Surely the richest country on earth can do better for its populace.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the '60s. Read other articles by Dennis.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John S. Hatch said on July 30th, 2009 at 9:44am #

    Spread across different Canadian cities, my family members have experienced at various times over many years cancer treatments, treatment for heart disease including an emergency intervention for myocarditis, a prolonged stay in a burn unit, and other less serious matters.

    Family members have always been treated courteously, swiftly, and efficiently.

    American neo-con propaganda to the contrary is as disingenuous as it is immoral.

  2. The Real Deal said on July 31st, 2009 at 12:22am #

    Let’s see, according to the US right-wing, Canada health care system is ‘socialistic’, and so bad Canadians are jumping en mass to change it to a US style ‘big dollar’ system. Right? Some facts:

    a) Canadian health care is owned and operated by medical professionals, great majority of which is in private practice. So the entire health care system, operationally, is private not socialist. The only thing run by the governments is medical insurance, and only for hospital care. Actually there are 10 such insurance systems, one for each province. Each province runs it their way with different technical and payout policies. But common to all is i) universality – all legal residence qualify for basic care, ii) insurance reimbursements to the care givers, set by medical/government experts, is done under a reasonable cost but no profit policy. Thus the huge revenue and profits of US-style private health givers and operators are substantially removed.

    b) The federal government does not run anything in the health care system. But it funds 50% of total cost, and sets national policy. That policy include universality, single provincial government controlled insurance, no descrimation, transferability, and certain performance standards such as wait-time.

    c) Not covered are dental, out-of-hospital drugs, eye glasses, cosmetic care. These are covered by private insurance. Frequently, business would add these as extra employment benefits.

    I have spent decades in Canada enjoying this amazing health care system. It works for me and just about all eligible. It works well because Canadians see health care as something basic, like national security, fire/police and such – and willing to pay for it. They have spent decades working out the kinks to produce a smooth running system, not only operationally but politically. They have charged the governments to run the *funding* of the system from tax revenues, and monitor how well they do their jobs like a hawk. No politicians dare to game or corrupt the system even one tiny bit. The system is much less expensive than the US system because much of the profit is taken out of it, cost is well-controlled, single-payer is simple and efficient, and fantastic malpractice cost and payments non-existence. Care givers are well-compensated – typical doctors make $150k – $200k, specialists up to $350k. Compare this to the $1m to $3m of comparable US doctors.

    Note that other aspects of health care – pharmaceutials, hospital constructions, medical equipment, R&D, long-term care are completely in the private sector as profit enterprises.

    The US right-wing have been bad-mouthing the Canadian system for decades, lately becoming viscous. They do this on ideological grounds – anything run by the government is inefficient and evil. They think nothing is more sacred then financial profits and this come only from the private sector – their private sector that is. And anything beyond this black/white ideology is either socialistic or communistic.

    I get a laugh when health care system of Canada and much of the world refutes the stupidity of the American right-wing. Just like the banking system.

  3. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 5:44am #

    I have relatives in Canada who also receive fine medical care and their stories are NOT about long waits and denial of care. They pity those in the USA that struggle under costs of either “insurance” or costs of out of pocket routine and emergency care.

    The drug thing . . . I have heard, but not verified that: USA pays for more for drugs because we pay for the R&D to develop and test those drugs. Canada bargains for a much lower cost that reflects cost of actual manufacture of pill plus a bit more, and USA consumers subsidize their lower costs by paying the built in costs for R&D. This is why we in USA are not allowed to get meds from our neighbors.

    Does anyone know if that is another planted story to try and prop up the “oh poor private sector” mantra? Sure appeals to those who think the world would be in shambles without the supreme generosity of USA corporate entities, and the monopoly on inventiveness and productivity that a frightening amount of USAers believe they have. Ugh.

    I think government insured population needs to be educated and also incentivized about some personal responsibility with regards to maintaining health as part of the package. I haven’t any suggestions as to how, but we have a problem in our country with oversized meals, fast “food”, and addiction to tell-a-vision and traveling on our a$$es. Also, the environmental pollution from everywhere we turn is a factor we mostly cannot control, but are slammed with the health problems it creates. We’ve gotta recognize how our “inventiveness” and production have created a health backlash.

    Peace,
    Melissa

  4. bozh said on July 31st, 2009 at 7:36am #

    bears repeating, even if it is solely by me and for 20th time: if we swim in one genetic pool, we shld also swim in one an dthe only swimming pool.
    but why have sanity when insanity brings more money to pols and friends? tnx

  5. Michele Q said on July 31st, 2009 at 9:29am #

    It’s amazing how many of you claim to have relatives living here and how well our system works, but that it itself proves that either you’re lying or misinformed. Growing up in Quebec, I can attest that many of the problems are true. We are experiencing a severe shortage in medical personnel, some facilities are in poor condition, and waiting for services is VERY MUCH REAL. Why don’t you read some of our newspapers:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/liberals-planning-dramatic-health-care-cuts-ndp-critic-charges/article1233156/

    http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/LondonFreePress/News/2005/04/06/984475-sun.html

    http://www.mackinac.org/article.aspx?ID=2748

    I won’t bother debating with you silly Americans. You think you know more than the rest of the world anyway, and honestly it’s not my problem. I just want to point out that you are overlooking one major fact: in moving to a system like ours or the UK, you will be sacrificing the latest technologies and treatments. What makes the American system so appealing is your medical research. That, my friends, will be a thing of the past. If you don’t think that’s a concern, then perhaps you shold talk to people whose lives have been saved by experimental treatments.

    I wish you all well. Just remember be careful what you wish for.

  6. The Real Deal said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:42am #

    Melissa: Here’s the story about Canadian drug costs.

    Canada gets medical drugs from 3 basic sources – USA, Europe and domestic. About 1/3 each. Canada has a substantial pharma R&D and production industry. The single-payer insurance system permits large purchases of common drugs, thus enjoying lower price. You buy more you get a bigger discount – market force at work. This way common drugs have a lower price. Now dispatch these drugs to a health service system that is cost-plus (i.e. not profit) based and you add more savings.

    As to the arguments from the US that Canada is ‘free riding’ on US R&D, that’s a weak argument. Because only about 1/3 comes from the US, and Canada buys them at full market price – with large volume discount. Nobody forces US pharma companies to sell at a lower price and compromise their R&D. So much hot air.

  7. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:07pm #

    Thank you, for sharing that info, The Real Deal. I’m glad I put forth the query.

  8. Annie Ladysmith said on August 1st, 2009 at 12:28am #

    Having lived in Canada for 10 years i only have the best things to say about the Medical Plan. The doctors are good, the nurses are good, the facilities are excellent. However, the reality is that the numbers are smaller and the social problems less overwhelming to the system.
    The big city medical/trauma center with a helipad is surrounded by nice pricey condos, ethnic restaurants, and people strolling with their kids. Just a couple of hours south of the border the regional medical/trauma center is a war zone with multiple stabbings, gunshot wounds, muggings, rape, CRIME in and without the doors of the hospital. I just can’t see it working in the states. I don’t see anything working at this point unless the tide of violence in the entire country is somehow reversed. How is THAT ever going to happen???

  9. Melissa said on August 1st, 2009 at 10:30am #

    Good points. I think the disparities and competing stories about Canada reflect what Annie is saying. My relatives live in a province that is NOT very populated, but I can see the more densely populated areas as having some shortage issues.

    Yes, violence is a big problem, glorified by USA culture.

    I agree, we are NOT going to get change that individuals believe in.

    Peace,
    Melissa

  10. The Real Deal said on August 1st, 2009 at 8:50pm #

    Michele:
    Regarding: “What makes the American system so appealing is your medical research. That, my friends, will be a thing of the past. If you don’t think that’s a concern, then perhaps you shold talk to people whose lives have been saved by experimental treatments.”

    Wrong. Excellence in US medical research will continue unabated because it is independent on how basic health care is funded. (It is funded by private insurance companies in the US, by public money in Canada.) Most US medical research are done in national institutions and universities – both are government funded. Private companies such as drug makers and specialty enterprises (such as DNA sequencing) do most of the rest. All these will continue to function and deliver first class results. The key US advantage on the care side is due to its ability to bring a vast team of doctors into the most challenging treatment using the most sophisticated equipment. Other countries can do almost the same, but usually falling short on the equipment side because they are truly expensive. Despite the heated debate, there is little disagreement that US can deliver the most sophisticated health care in the world; just that it’s also the most expensive. This is the upside of for-profit health care. The downside is 50+ million people don’t have it, and insurance disallows all but the lucky minority to enjoy such advanced treatments. What’s the joy of going up to space if so few can afford it?

  11. Obstreperous said on August 1st, 2009 at 11:06pm #

    The Real Deal: Excellence in US medical research will continue unabated.

    I’m afraid that such wishful thinking in unjustified. The mere threat of government regulation in the 90s led to the destruction of competition in the pharmaceutical industry (consolidation into ever bigger and fewer companies). This lack of competition has dried up innovation and led to a decreased focus on all but the most “profitable” diseases. The health care upheaval underway and removal of the last sources of research investment will drive us into the health care Dark Ages. Considering everyone’s environmental concerns coupled to an ever increased world population further exacerbated by a proplonged lifespan and improved per capita income…perhaps the elimination of this excess population is the real driver behind so-called health care reform. Which goes first…us or the planet? Frankly neither scenario is appealing to me, but I don’t hear any serious alternatives being offered by anyone with the wherewithal to do anything about it.

  12. russell olausen said on August 2nd, 2009 at 4:21pm #

    Every body needs a little heart to make a medical system for all work. Individual materialism is the heart of the U.S. system, ergo you have the best system for you all.