Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Canadian's View

I received this in an e-mail from a friend.  It was written by an unnamed source.   I am unable to verify the originator of the letter, but the excerpt (in blue) was written by an award winning Canadian journalist named Linda McQuaig.   I did verify that Linda McQuaig is a fearless journalist called, "Canada's Michael Moore."

Health Care Debate Seen from the North
(at left: sign for a local CLSC: "centre local de services communautaires" or local community service center where neighborhood health and social services are located.) Since they hear so much about the horrors of the Canadian single-payer system, Americans might be interested to see what the health care debate looks like to Canadians. This recent piece in the Toronto Star by Linda McQuaig gives the flavor of what I've been hearing ever since moving up here - a kind of astonished incredulity, and even pity, that such a rich country can't manage to provide a minimal level of care of all of its citizens. It also expresses the fear of what might happen here, in Canada, if the system is allowed to fragment or fail. Here's an excerpt: 

"...While the U.S. media gave prime time to gun-toting health reform opponents, they all but ignored a Harvard study, reported last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that found nearly 45,000 people die in the U.S. each year largely because they lack health insurance.

As resistance to U.S. health reform rages on - with its inane, vicious, even racist overtones - the fiasco should remind Canadians of the dangers of allowing our public health-care system to deteriorate.

What makes health reform so elusive in the U.S. is the way its opponents - led by wealthy corporate interests - are able to play Americans off against each other.

Americans are hunkered down in their own little bunkers, watching out just for themselves and their families. Anyone proposing reforms that might result in higher taxes is met with a rifle poked out the top of the bunker.

It's this dynamic - citizens pitted against each other - that has kept Americans at each other's throats over health care for years.
It's easy to understand, for instance, why middle class American taxpayers resent paying for medicaid, a public program that provides some coverage for the poor, when these same taxpayers can't afford coverage for themselves and their families.

The only real solution is public health care for all. A Canadian-style plan could save Americans $400 billion a year, Harvard's Dr. David Himmelstein wrote recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But Americans are so uninformed about the rest of the world that few even seem aware any Canadian can spend weeks in hospital getting state-of-the-art medical treatment and then walk out the front door without owing a penny. Such is the menace of public health care...
...the snarling fury of America's current crop of right-wing extremists almost makes one nostalgic for last year's gentler, childlike lunacy of Sarah Palin."
While the Canadian writer of this article has it approximately correct, I object to her characterization of Americans as "watching out just for themselves and their families", ready to "point a rifle" at anyone proposing higher taxes. There's an element of truth there for sure, but it's an oversimplification. Many are certainly hunkered down, buffeted by competing forces that are certainly a product of capitalism. The bunker mentality doesn't develop from lack of care for others as much as from fear - but to the rest of the world, it looks like meanness, competition, and selfishness coming from the grassroots. Let's talk about the greed of surgeons who make insane salaries, or their counterparts in the top levels of hospital administration, or drug companies, or insurance companies who stand to lose a lot with a single-payer system -- that's greed and meanness. When you go out into the hinterlands and talk to ordinary poor and middle-class people trying to pay for rising health care costs in a terrible economy, you quickly understand that what they feel like are victims of a huge system over which they have absolutely no control -- and that health care is only one of the aspects of American life that makes them feel that way. People in dire straits, without a great deal of education, and full of anxiety, are easily manipulated by fear tactics.

I wish Americans could understand that universal coverage actually works, and I wish that the Scandinavians, French, and Canadians could really understand the pressure that so many un-insured or under-insured Americans are under. When I talk to people here they really don't get it; that level of suffering in the midst of perceived plenty is as incredible to Canadians as compassionate and fair universal coverage is to many Americans. We all succumb to stereotyping, and while I won't defend America's insularity, greediness, or me-first-ness, those are not the overriding characteristics of the Americans most at risk in this debate.


Rain said...

I have several Canadian friends and all are happy with their medical system. The one I know the best pays for supplemental coverage which I guess is an option at least in British Columbia. She has had several big health problems including the need to have gall bladder surgery and she got good care and didn't have to wait as they claim Canadians do. Now was the fact that she has a supplemental package part of that reason, I don't know.

Nancy said...


Linda McQuaig did not write that article in vain. She would be proud of the way you took that piece and ran with it.

You did her proud and you took one more giant step in trying to make the American public aware of the benefits that Canadians have over us by way of their National Health Care.......

I loved these lines best:

..."the snarling fury of America's current crop of right-wing extremists almost makes one nostalgic for last year's gentler, childlike lunacy of Sarah Palin."

joared said...

This is really excellent, Darlene! Certainly, I think some of the fear of more taxes from the middle class is due to the fact this group has been under assault for many years as we move closer to becoming a two class society with fewer in the middle income levels.

I've been told that no matter what health care system any country has, those with the financial resources are always able to get care whether in Great Britain where the person who said this to me worked in their govt. pgm., or Canadians I've read about choosing to come to America for their surgery rather than wait.

I do think timeliness in service delivery is a key item to examine with any health care system. As a provider I can tell you I have seen a significant decline in providing timely delivery of services in our country compared to ten or twenty years ago. Other countries systems sometimes offer even less timely service delivery for some.

Using what is life-threatening vs not life-threatening to determine who receives some immediate surgeries and who does not needs some review. There are some other medical issues that come into play using that criteria that we need to be assured will be given consideration in any U.S. plan for this seems to be a weakness in some other nation's plans, including G.B. and Canada. It is a quick and easy way to help control costs, or does it?

I, too, like that quote Nancy noted.

Darlene said...

*Rain - I don't think the fact that your friend had supplemental insurance had anything to do with the timeliness of her surgery. I have heard from other Canadians that waiting for surgery, other than elective, is a myth.

*Nancy - I wish I could believe I took a step in the right direction, but I am mostly preaching to the Choir. Thank you for your comment. I loved that quote, too.

*Joared - Good point. I would hope that life threatening surgeries would take priority no matter what system we have, but maybe it needs to be spelled out in the legislation. Does and either/or happen often in a surgical wing, I wonder.

Tabor said...

I am suggesting that all the bunker types head to Texas where they will feel safer...;-0

Vagabonde said...

We came back from Canada last Wednesday. While there we talked with many Canadians who really thought that the Americans were crazy because of the way they were fighting against their own good. The Canadians we talked to said that they were very pleased with their health care and felt pity for the US public. What they said most is that they did not understand why the US were so afraid of “social medicine” or anything with “social” in it and they said it was because the US public did not understand the meaning of the word. For many people in this country, they would get better heath care in a 3rd world country than in this supposed free country. I guess we are all free to die as you write that 45,000 do per year because of lack of care. I am afraid the education system here is also going down as quickly as the health care system, what is it again .. a third of kids don’t finish high school here? And in some states it’s as high as 50%? How can anyone talk to kids who become illiterate people and make them understand anything?
Thanks for commenting on my blog. We are slowly cleaning the den but it still smells very musty. The flood has receded from the creek nearby and they re-opened the road today.

Friko said...

From this side of the pond the health care 'war' going on in the US makes many of us stare in disbelief. How can you NOT want universal health care?
I read in the paper today, that Andy Williams, the American singer "doesn't like Obama at all" He believes that Obama wants to turn the States into a socialist country. Perhaps he should be singing "Can't get used to losing" and forget about the final "you".
Carry on campaigning Darlene.

Darlene said...

*Tabor - Good one - do you suppose Bush would keep them on his ranch?

*Vagabonde - Sometimes I think we are well on our way to becoming a third world country through sheer ignorance.

I hope you are drying out and the musty smell is leaving. So sad that you lost your books. I hope you are able to salvage some of them and that the 'rain, rain will go away'.

*Friko - Words are powerful and nobody knows it better than the fringe nutcases. They have managed to make the world liberal sound like a negative thing to be by sneering when they say it and have done the same thing with Socialized, forgetting that all of their representatives in Washington have 'socialized' medicine and that Medicare is socialized. People can be so stupid!