Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Canada vs. America: Universal Health Care vs. Health Care for Profit

A reporter from a local newspaper once told me that they let old people die in Canada. I’d recently returned to Tennessee after living for 13 years in Canada. I was surprised to learn that I had been living in such a primitive country. Since that day, I’ve become accustomed to hearing strange and horrifying tales about a country, or a health care system, that I do not recognize.

Take a recent Op-ed in a local daily newspaper. Written by a chemistry professor, who has also spent time in Canada, the article makes a number of preposterous and unsubstantiated claims. They all add up to the charge that Canada is a rather backward country with a health care system vastly inferior to that of the U.S.

The professor does not offer evidence for his claims and for good reason. If the American system were superior to the Canadian system, health care outcomes would support the claim. Instead, those outcomes, which are the standard measure of the health a nation, all point to the superiority of the Canadian system.

According to the World Health Organization, the OECD, the United Health Foundation, and virtually every other health-related organization you can name, the U.S. is one of the worst nations in the industrialized world in health outcomes. Americans not only live shorter lives, we spend more of our lives in poor health.

The U.S. does worse (or ties for worst) in the critical measures of life expectancy, infant mortality, child mortality, maternal deaths and low birth weights.

Of course, these other developed nations have governments that provide universal health care. Thus, it should not be surprising that they do better in important areas such as keeping babies alive. In fact, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is on the rise!

According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, there are 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S. Even Cuba does a better job of keeping babies alive.

In 2003, there were 12.6 million women of childbearing age and 9.1 million children under age 19, who were uninsured in the U.S., and those were the good old days.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, we actually spend far more on heath care than countries that do better than us. We get less and pay more.

But the professor doesn't bother with details such as these. Instead he offers anecdotal evidence, some of which leads me to believe that his values are very different from mine. He speaks glowingly of a Texas hospital where his daughter was born, gushing that it “was like the Taj Mahal” compared to the Canadian hospital where his other child was born. But he is not the only one who has anecdotal evidence. I've also had birthing experiences in both Canadian and U.S. hospitals.

My baby and I spent our Canadian hospital stay in a blissful state in a cozy private room. While the hospital did not resemble the Taj Mahal, my doctor respected my wishes and made certain that the birth experience was as I desired. Afterwards, nurses, and even my doctor, paid routine visits to my home. My doctor made elaborate charts which demonstrated how the health and development of my baby compared to that of other Canadian babies. My bill was $3.00.

My birthing experience in the U.S. was another story altogether. The hospital had run out of blankets, the fetal heart machine was defective, and my doctor ignored all of my wishes. She ordered procedures which she had promised I could forgo, including ones which sped up the labor and intensified the pain. I understood that time was money, and my baby and I were definitely taking too much of her time. After the ordeal was over, no nurses or doctors visited my home. There were no elaborate charts comparing the development of my baby to other American babies. My bill was astronomical.

The professor claims: “Even if you do not have health insurance, when your life is at risk, you will get health care. In Canada, it's 'Take a number, please.'''

Once again, no evidence is offered to persuade one that the author is doing anything other than making it up as he goes. Certainly,
he does not speak as someone who has ever been without health insurance.

In America, the struggle to find enough money to persuade a doctor to see you may not be called ‘a wait list,’ but it’s as good as one. And it’s a wait far more dangerous than the waits for elective procedures that sometimes occur in Canada.

For the uninsured, and there are 45 million of us in the U.S., the process of acquiring ‘charity care’ can be so time-consuming that even when the condition is urgent, the care may arrive too late.

Years ago, when my uninsured son required immediate eye surgery, it took so long to process our plea for care that the surgery was performed days later than the doctors hoped. If we had remained in Canada, we could have simply handed over our Canadian Health Care card.

The doctors said that every day we waited lessened the chances of saving his sight. If it had been up to the doctors, he would have had the surgery the first day they saw him. He’s been blind in that eye ever since.

That’s how it works in a system based on the immoral premise that health care is a privilege reserved for those who can pay.