Friday, July 31, 2009

Our U.S. right-wing friends are slandering our country

The wounded right-wing of U.S. politics is striking out again at Canada, just as they always seem to do when the going gets tough. Remember the false charges that the 9/11 suicide terrorists came from Canada?

This time it’s over their battle to keep healthcare the private goldmine of insurance companies and private institutions. And, of course, to protect the millions of dollars that now flow from private health care lobby groups to U.S. politicians and their agents.

Theirs is not a fight over principle, folks. Theirs is a mean-spirited defence of vested interests in the name of private enterprise. And some proponents of the status quo in the United States will stop at nothing in this battle. Take this recent example.

Yesterday Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), while on MSNBC with Carlos Watson, grotesquely distorted CBO figures. He claimed (and he’s distorted figures before):

“We don’t need this administration and House Democrats, even with the changes that have been negotiated in their deal, are intent on doing, and that is launching a massive, new, government-run insurance plan that will [mean] literally nearly a trillion dollars in higher taxes at the outset...”

MSNBC’s Carlos Watson reacted quickly, saying:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa ... unless you’re looking at different data than I’m looking at, I don’t remember there being a trillion dollars in new taxes.”

Pence then backtracked with, “Yeah, I'm rounding up,” placing the price tag at $800 billion. But, even that was a phony number.

In fact, the CBO's preliminary estimate of the House bill stated its entire cost would be just over $1 trillion over 10 years. $540 billion of that—not the $800 billion or $1 trillion claimed by Pence—would be paid for with new taxes affecting about 1.2 per cent of U.S. households. Savings in Medicare and other health systems are expected to take care of the rest of the bill.

In similar fashion, the opponents of U.S. health care reform are maligning and distorting our publicly-funded health care system. It’s a smear campaign, of course, because they cannot argue their position on its merits. Every other industrial nation on earth has publicly funded universal health care. The U.S. stands alone as the last bastion of a warped, 19th Century view of private enterprise.

Think about it: people in Canada live longer and infant mortality is lower than in the United States. Add to that the fact our system is less costly. This is not how they characterize our system though, is it?

Canadian governments spend around 7 per cent of GDP on health care, about the same as in the United States. In Canada, however, everyone is covered while in the U.S. 7 per cent of GDP covers only about a third of their population.

Furthermore, Canada spends just 2.4 per cent of our total costs on administration compared to the 7 per cent the U.S. government spends. In fact, some studies place private sector health care administration costs at a whopping 14 to 22 per cent in the U.S.

When I arrived in Ontario in the 1950s, families were responsible for their own medical bills. Those with the money got the care they needed, but those without suffered and went without care—some even died from lack of proper care. Some families, like mine, spent their entire life savings on a single illness of one family member.

Our system may be flawed, but it works well. In medical emergencies, such as the one I faced in 2001, patients are treated without a credit check. From the time I arrived at the emergency department, to the time I was in a bed in the intensive care ward and hooked up to monitors and intravenous medication, less that 10 minutes had elapsed.

I would not swap our system for the Americans’ money-first or no care even for life-threatening conditions system. Nor do I envy Americans their exorbitant insurance costs, private-sector bureaucrat control and poor outcomes in life expectancy and infant mortality.

I just wish they’d leave us out of their squabbling and stop their shameful slandering of our social program when they have nothing that measures up to ours.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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  1. Do come along, now. The rest of the world feels free to complain about American institutions and policies: it works both ways. Our national honour has not been sullied, we are just the flavour of the moment in a political tussle. Thick skin, old son.

    As for the supposedly decrepit American system, I recall when I fell ill in NYC some years ago. The attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Centre thought I should undergo an MRI. So I was placed in one of their four MRI stations for the scan. When I asked my GP back home how long it would take to do the same in Ontario, he said it would have been six months.

    Can America do better? Yes. Do our parents die early in this country thanks to rationed health care? Well, the rest of us know the answer.

  2. You're buying in to left wing scare mongering if you believe that you'd be turned away from an emergency department in the U.S. with a life threatening emergency.

    As for insurance costs, how much private insurance do you think you could buy if your taxes were reduced by the amount now going to fund our current system? Nearly identical. Plus you wouldn't have to put up with the waiting lists and chronic shortages pervasive in our system.

  3. You have to admit the irony is humorous - after all, the wounded left-wing of Canadian politics frequently strikes out against the U.S. Most of what they say about the Canadian system is correct. We have a bloated, dysfunctional system that costs far more than it needs to; while in most places our emergency health care is good, too many people suffer and die waiting for routine tests and medical appointments. If you are worried about "vested interests", look no further than the thousands of groups and individuals making millions off our system while contributing nothing but pretty speeches and ideological pablum. Our system is far from perfect, not even near the top on most charts so I agree with those in the US who say they shouldn't copy our system. There are countries in Europe with far more diverse and effective systems; that is where they should be looking.

  4. Yes and Layton as "ambassador for left wing Tommy Douglas medicare" has been such a big help too - fodder for the right. How is it that Jack always shows up with the wrong flag at the wrong party?

  5. Yep.That seems to be the way they do politics.Both sides Dems and Repubs distort things way out of line.America can afford that health care plan.

  6. Awesome post. Awesome.

    While we sometimes view our society as polarized, we've got nothing on our American neighbours.

    One of our Sr. VPs at work has an autistic child who is 30-something and still living with him and his wife. They have family in Florida. The family in Florida is truly broke because of trying to maintain adequate medical coverage/care for their daughter who has MS.

    Upon hearing that his cousin, my Sr. VP, had also spent a considerable sum for care of his daughter but largely (in contrast) has been the benefactor of our health care system, he responded (and this is a word for word quote):

    " But that's socialism! I don't know how you sleep at night knowing that you're using a socialist system of medicare to care for your family "

    So there sat two very white collar educated men and my Veep couldn't get his cousin to understand that there is merit to families (and the economy) to a universal health care system.

    Of course i wouldn't be showing my political colours if i didn't point out that just like the US is the only western nation without a universal health care safety net, we're the only western nation that completely prohibits basic private health care delivery.

  7. Are you Serious?

    "...defense of vested interest in the name of private enterprise"

    And this is a bad thing? The same private enterprise that brings us just about everything we purchase...that supports our education system, our health care system, our governement...

    And this is bad??

    If private enterprise doesn't stick up for american private insurance, who will? I wish the hell I could buy it here...

    But no...wait times until death are somehow good for me.

    Get real...

  8. The health care debate in the U.S. has never really been about private enterprise—at least, not the modern version, it's about greedy people wanting to protect their turf even when not in the broad interest of society. Basic health care, by its very nature, should be a guaranteed right to all citizens.

    That sort of private enterprise went out of favour before WW II.

  9. Anon,

    Canada's health care system could use more private enterprise to certainly improve its efficiency, and some form of private health care delivery channel in Canada needs to be established.

    But health care in the US is retarded.

    If you're complaining about "wait times" in Canada then you really don't understand the American system.

    'Population solidarity' and 'adverse selection'. That's Insurance 101 and understanding both of those terms makes it crystal clear that the US system is desperately needs to be fixed.

    If you took what was great from our system, and what was great from there's (innovation, R&D, responsiveness) you'd probably have the best healthcare system in the world.

    But a healthcare system that has the highest infant mortality rate of industrialized countries in the world despite being its most expensive is an embarrassment and not something to be copied.