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Canadian Healthcare Mythologized

23-Jul-09 11:51 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

CBC News: Canadian defends anti-Medicare ad
Shawna Holmes, a Canadian citizen, was successfully courted by a “well-funded” American lobbying group opposed to “socialized medicine”.
W

ow!  This past week we saw Republicans launch a highly effective assault on President Brack Obama’s proposed healthcare plan.  And, incredibly, what was the secret weapon – the central theme of the campaign?  “We don’t want healthcare like Canada’s.”

In particular, there was an advertisement featuring a Canadian woman who offered up a sound-bite concerning her brain tumour and how the lethargically-slow Canadian system would have waited until well past the day she was dropped into her grave before giving her the surgery she needed.  While certainly light on detail, it was, admittedly, hard to deny that, for some procedures, wait times in Canada can – from time to time – force people to purchase treatment in the United States.  Although there was no indication whether her situation really called for this or whether her situation was even particularly commonplace.

The ad sparked a flurry of debate in the United States, of course, and you would think the Canadian Government might be called upon to explain the situation to folks when media agencies like CNN started calling to get a response to the raging criticisms of the Canadian Medicare system.  Unbelievably, the Canadian Government “could not be reached for comment” and it fell to the opposition Liberal Party of Canada to put in appearances (specifically, former Health Minister Ujal Dosanjh") to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, these efforts haven’t met with very much success and Americans, as usual, are forming opinions based on gross distortions of the facts condensed into fear-mongering sound-bites voiced by a rich, disgruntled Canadian woman who apparently sold out her country’s image and helped a bunch of neocons further their radical right-wing, “anti-Commie” agenda in exchange for a few greenbacks.

At this juncture, if one is truly too pressed for time to research the issue properly, at least one can balance off the cheaply-bought Republican sound-bites by listening to what most Canadians will say about this story:

  • Canadian Medicare is certainly not perfect.  While there are occasional wait times for some procedures in our universal system that can result in those with means seeking treatment in the U.S., at least we have a system we’re working to improve – one where nobody dies on the steps of our nation’s hospitals because they weren’t covered.
  • Shawna Holmes, the Canadian woman from the Republican ad, apart from being the sort of person to sell out her nation’s image for personal gain, is also in a tiny minority concerning her preference for American-style, insurance-based coverage.  The vast majority of Canadians support the system we have.  And as a nation whose people overwhelmingly consider the United States our closest ally and friend in the world (even Republicans, with whom most of us differ on questions of political ideology), we would recommend in the strongest possible terms adoption of a similar kind of system in the United States.  In short, the good outweighs the harms.

Yes, I know….I’m just one voice and who am I to speak for all of Canada?  Well, there are a few social forums out there where one can review the discourse.  The CBC News story covering this subject also offers a comments section where virtually all the replies will be from Canadians.  The above views should be reflected there to some degree.

And even if somehow the discourse didn’t immediately show that Canadians basically support the type of Medicare system we have, despite any problems – one fact remains undeniable: any time a political party has threatened to tamper with universal medical coverage conceptually in this country, it has amounted to the political equivalent of shooting oneself in the head with a large gun.  The ballot box has left no doubt on this issue in Canadian political history: and our Medicare system has been around for almost half a century now.

Rest assured, if Canada’s Medicare system was really as bad as the Republican’s say – even if it were 1/10th as bad as they make it out in their ads; it wouldn’t have survived as the leading social program for decades.

Aside from citing the seemingly obvious holes in the Republicans’ attack on the Obama Medicare plan, speaking for myself (although I know many of my countrymen feel the same way here too) – I can’t figure out why Americans seem to prefer the obviously dysfunctional medical system they’ve got to one like Canada’s.  It’s as if the word “socialized medicine” gets inserted into a sentence and suddenly Americans revert into a kind of McCarthyist cult that would rather commit mass-suicide than experience a universal coverage system with the prefix “social” used to describe it.

Maybe it’s just us being on this side of the 49th.  But, sadly, calling resistance to an Obama-style (universal coverage) plan “mass suicide” doesn’t appear to be at all far from the truth.

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Terry Glavin

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