Thursday, July 23, 2009

The U.S. Attack on Canadian Health Care

Brian Day and Shona Holmes have appeared in U.S. TV ads funded by opponents of President Obama's health care reform plan in order to criticize the Canadian system. Most Americans never get to see or hear the opinions of the vast majority of Canadians, who would never want to trade their system for the American one. However well-intentioned Mr. Day and Ms. Holmes are, their messages are misleading on several different levels.

In the first place, the number of Canadians who are so sick of waiting lists that they go to the US is miniscule compared to the number of Americans who are uninsured–or the number of Americans who go north on “drug vacations” to buy cheaper medicine. Secondly, the fact that the Canadian Supreme Court required minimum wait list times isn’t an indictment of the system–it is just an example of how judicial review has helped to improve the system. Thirdly, it’s all a red herring anyway because Obama isn’t talking about creating a Canadian single-payer system –just about moving from a system of unmanaged competition (which is good for insurance companies, lawyers, pharmaceuticals and almost nobody else) to a system of managed competition.

Although Australia’s “two-tier” system isn’t great from a Canadian perspective, (since the research shows that waiting lists and quality of care in Australia actually are not improved in areas where the private system is allowed, since the private system siphons off nurses and doctors from the public system) the Australian system would still be a huge improvement for the United States. Simply extend the public Medicare and Medicaid systems in America to the 50 million or so who are now uninsured, and then let the rest buy better service from a managed private system if they wish. To denigrate that as “socialism” is just plain silly.

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