Note to American Friends About Canadian Health Care

From north of the border, we Canadians watch the American quest for health care reform with much interest.  However, after hearing the Canadian socialized system breezily dismissed from the debate for the umpteenth time, I feel compelled to put in a word.Americans seem to believe socialized medicine means a five year wait for substandard care. This is utterly false and part, I suspect, of  misinformation pumped out to scare Americans away from such schemes.   When someone I know was found to have a brain tumor, she had major surgery in within two weeks.  Others diagnosed with cancer start treatment right away.  When I dragged myself to the emergency room, feeling bad, I was admitted to the hospital within a hour with pneumonia.  I spent nine days in a special respiratory unit receiving the best of care. All of this didn’t cost a personal penny.  Nor do Canadians have to scrape up money for health premiums or stay at outworn jobs because of the insurance plan.  Business and industry aren’t burdened with coverage for employees.  No one, no matter what their income, need fear they will be without health care.  No asset is seized to pay a medical bill.  No one can be ruined by medical debt.   Our children inherit our hard-earned wealth, not a medical corporation. Our system gives each of us indescribable peace of mind.Another misconception is that Canadians have no choice.  This is also untrue.  Canadians may choose any doctor or medical facility they like.  Americans, I understand, can be quite limited in their options depending upon income and insurance plan.Canadians have so much choice because we gladly pay through our taxes.   As a US justice famously stated, taxes are the price of civilization. If we get good schools, universal health care and a strong social safety net to prevent the worst ills of poverty and ignorance, it’s worth every dollar. Decent health care becomes not a consumer good, but a basic human right, crucial to the well-being of the individual and the nation.Goodness knows, our system is far from perfect.  There are cost pressures, service gaps,  inter-governmental wrangling,  inevitable blunders and a gigantic country to cover. Wait times can sometimes be long when everyone must be served, not just those who can pay, though a concerted effort is steadily resolving this issue.  For instance, you now get cataract surgery within 3 weeks and a joint replacement inside of 11 weeks.   Anyone needing immediate help, gets it immediately.   Whenever for-profit medicine tries to establish itself, alarm races through the land. We have our own fright tactics.  We are warned about doctors growing obscenely rich off the sickness of others.  We are given the specter of lying deathly ill in a hospital regarding us as a source of profit and bent on earning as much from our misery as possible while our insurance company plots equally hard to provide as little coverage as they can; neither one much concerned about what is best for the patient.  We would emerge either denied treatment or thousands of dollars in debt, headed straight into bankruptcy.  We are grimly told half of all personal bankruptcies in the US involve medical debt.This scare picture probably isn’t true any more than our “five year” wait times. Our system is private, by the way, but it has a single payer — the government.  A Canadian doctor spends about an hour a week on billing as opposed to the 20 hours a US doctor needs.  Without insurance companies in the middle, money goes directly to medical support. Our system was begun half a century ago by Tommy Douglas, premier of Saskatchewan.  Tommy, appalled by the dreadful suffering he had seen during the Depression in families unable to afford doctors, fought the for-profit medical establishment to a standstill, including their American reinforcements determined to stamp out the idea lest it spread south.  And guess what!  In a 2006  national poll to decide who is the greatest Canadian, this scrappy, long-dead politician won, hands-down, beating out founders, explorers, inventors, war heroes, sports giants and rock stars.  I love him too.Yes, a modern health care system is expensive to run, but we bear the cost together, as a compassionate community, rather than abandoning individuals to pay with everything they have for life-saving treatment.Canada manages to provide good universal health care for everyone at a cost of 9.1% of our GDP.  The US, at about 15% of its GDP, spends over 50% more per capita than Canada yet leaves 40 million people not covered. On top of that, our health care system gives Canadians a lower infant mortality rate than the US and a life expectancy that is longer by two years.This is just one view from a distant vantage point outside the US.  For another opinion, please pick anyone from the Canadian phone book and give them a call. Americans will choose a health care system that best suits their temperament, infrastructure and values.  I can only say that Canadians would  revolt in the streets at any alteration of our universal health care plan.