Health care debate ignores The Greatest Canadian
The promise of reform
As a candidate, President Obama promised to "reform" health care, making it more affordable and more accessible, especially to those who are currently not insured (around 47 million Americans and counting). Now that he's in office, his administration intends to follow through on his campaign promises by at least making some sort of an attempt at reform - though many on the left believe his attempts at reform are mostly just "makeup on a pig" when we really need to get rid of the pig and start afresh with a new animal, say something less smelly and covered in slop. However, while Obama's intended reforms may be much too weak for many, at least it's a start, in some folks' eyes.
Industry-backed spin machines launch PR war on health care
However, let one thing be sure: a multi-billion dollar (actually more like trillion-dollar) industry, with fat-cat CEO's and their nice big yachts, multiple mansions, and private islands to escape to (not to mention the best health-care money can buy), will certainly not go down without a fight. They dare not let any possible reform hit them where it hurts, in their yacht-buying-money. So, it's really no surprise to find a massive insurance-company-funded lobbying war ramping up, as we speak, to fight any possible reform.
Follow the money, or should I say follow the campaign contributions
The Republican party is, of course, a key component in this fight, with many of the Republican House and Senate members being heavily funded by insurance industry campaign contributions. You can be sure those campaign contributions were given for good reason, not because insurance executives like the Republicans' stance on flag burning or gay marriage. And, let's be non-partisan here: there are a fair number of Democrats on the insurance companies' "payroll" as well. So, now we are being barraged with media ads, spin doctors, and radio talk show hosts (AM 770, anyone?) espousing the "dangers" of a public insurance option or "socialized medicine" as they call it.
Socialism, the new bogeyman?
The media echo chamber uses the word "socialism" in about every other sentence, when discussing this topic (if you can call it a discussion - usually a discussion involves multiple viewpoints). They've even trotted out a few disgruntled Canadians to publicly proclaim how horrible the Canadian health care system is. The ads, blogs, radio shows, and corporate media are on repeat - looping these themes over and over and over. And over.
There's a truism in politics: repeat something often enough, loudly enough, and from a wide enough collection of sources, and a good chunk of the public will believe it. Case in point: the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (remember them?). This is not a uniquely Republican tactic; the Clinton administration employed the same techniques during the Lewinsky scandal, for example.
So, given that the Republicans (and some choice Democrats) are making many references to the Canadian health care system, it might be interesting to get the real scoop about how Canadians feel about their system. First, let's state the obvious: there are some Canadians who are for one reason or another not happy with their system. There is no perfect system, nor will we ever find a system which doesn't have some examples where it didn't function well and serve the needs of a particular person. So, is it possible that the Republican-backed "show ponies" (i.e. disgruntled Canadian citizens) are real? Yes, quite possible.
These "show ponies" may well be actual Canadians who had a bad experience. That would not be terribly unusual; after all, the United States of America boasts a few unhappy with our system; and when I say a few, I mean about oh, say, 47 million men, women, and children who have no access to health care except in the case of emergency, when they must be treated in emergency rooms (triage, just enough treatment to stop the immediate emergency, after which they are summarily booted out). And, we all know that procrastinating care until it's an emergency is not only the least effective time to treat a problem, it's also the most costly. Not to mention, waiting until a cancerous tumor is an immediate emergency, such that an emergency room will treat you, is pretty much the equivalent of a death sentence, is it not?
Just who is "The Greatest Canadian" and what does that have to do with health care?
So, I mentioned The Greatest Canadian in the title for this story. Some of you may be asking, by now, "what the heck does that have to do with anything?" Well, a lot. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had a contest a few years back, to determine whom the Canadian public thought was the greatest Canadian of all time. There were the usual candidates: musicians, athletes, politicians, actors and actresses, scientists, and philanthropists among the mix. Familiar names like Wayne Gretzky, John Candy, Neil Young, and Alexander Graham Bell were among the running. So was Pamela Lee Anderson; hey, even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wants ratings. But, surprisingly, none of the household names (whom an American might have actually heard of) won the contest. Instead, a guy by the name of Tommy Douglas won.
Tommy Douglas. You know him, right? Surely the Republicans, the right-wing Democrats, and their corporate sponsors from the health-insurance lobby told you about Tommy Douglas, didn't they? No? Well, let me introduce you to Mr. Douglas, as he might be informative for those of you unfamiliar with Canada. Tommy Douglas - The Greatest Canadian - was the father of the Canadian, public-run, health care system. Tommy Douglas was the father of "health care for all, regardless of income" in Canada. Yes, he brought to Canada that horrible bogeyman "socialized medicine" and, despite the bogeyman name which evokes fear and loathing in every red-blooded American, the Canadians loved it - and loved him - for it. Don't believe me? Then see for yourself: find out more about The Greatest Canadian on the CBC's web site.
A personal note
In writing this piece, I would be remiss not to mention my beloved wife. My wife was born and raised in Canada, with her entire family and extended family still living there to this day. In fact, her brother is a family physician in The Great White North, as I like to jokingly call it. So, while it may be anecdotal, let me add to the mix that my wife and her entire family - including her brother, the doctor - firmly believe in the Canadian system, and its superiority to the American one. Does that mean it's perfect in Canada? Of course not. But is it better than what we've got here, with 47 million uninsured (and even for the insured, the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US being health care costs)? Yes; undoubtedly so. It's a superior system, warts and all.
But that's just your opinion
So, the astute reader may now be saying to herself, "but that's just one guy's opinion" or "but that's just one family's opinion" or "but that's just one country's opinion". In other words, "yeah, but that's subjective." Well, astute reader, if it's objective, factual information you want, how about this: Canada spends about 10 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care; the US spends around 16 percent. What do we get here in the US for spending nearly twice as much as Canada does on health care? How about lower life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates. Sounds like a great deal for us: pay more, get less. It's a great deal, alright. Well, if you happen to be an insurance company executive who enjoys large sailing vessels, it's a fantastic deal.
What about waiting times?
I'd be a fool not to mention one of the most common criticisms of the Canadian system: waiting times. Will waiting times go up in such a system? Perhaps. Slightly. Simply put: if you add 47 million people to the system (currently uninsured), this will add to some of the wait times. But, as they do in Canada, it's a simple matter of prioritization: critical procedures, for which a wait would endanger the patient, are moved to the front of the line. Routine procedures, that are not risking the patient's health by delaying, may incur a slightly larger wait time. This is the price we pay to have all of our citizens covered. There is no free lunch. So, the knee replacement surgery may have to wait a couple of weeks. But the heart bypass, well they'll get you in straight away. Don't worry, be happy.