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Canadian healthcare in an American debate

May 28, 2009

I wrote earlier this year about how Canadian health care is seen as a “bogeyman” in U.S. debates on healthcare reform, a conduit for creeping socialism and all things un-American.

But let us at least be clear about one thing: Obama’s proposed health care reforms are far from the single-payor universal care scheme in Canada. Though the details are unclear, the President’s current proposal (that will likely emerge out of committee in Congress) is simply including a public medical insurance option among the now predominant private HMO plans. The public option, so the theory goes, will help drive down costs through competition, forcing private insurers to reign in spiraling costs.

These facts, however, have changed little. Despite the clear differences between the Obama plan with the Canadian system, conservative groups are putting together documentary style attack ads featuring Canadians and Brits recounting “horror stories” from their respective healthcare systems in a bid to stop President Obama’s healthcare reform. With a bit of searching, I haven’t been able to find out how legitimate or accurate these “first hand accounts” really are. But the implication is clear: the Canadian way is public and bad, and since the Obama plan offers some public measures, it’s also bad. The Republican alternative plan rejects any public option.

Putting aside the question as to which plan is the better option, it is hard to see how this attack ad campaign can be successful in the long run: there are just too many differences between a single-payor universal healthcare system, and one where the government is one option among many. Ironically, the Canadian health care system is transforming from bogeyman to red herring. It’s a focus of the debate, even though the debate is about something entirely different.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2009 4:41 pm

    As congress goes home for recess it is important that all Americans keep up the pressure on our elected Representatives to know what they are voting for and what its implications are:
    1 Costs
    2 Deficits
    3 Moving from economic rationing to end of life rationing
    4 Restricting innovation
    5 Hindering an American asset
    Follow the debate at

  2. June 9, 2009 11:12 am

    another article from the wall street journal today about our terrifying healthcare system:

    truth of these portrayals aside (and i do believe there is some truth to them) it’s just insane that the obama plan is being portrayed as canadian-style healthcare. the way the debate is being skewed, americans will be lucky if they even get a government insurance option.

  3. raymond dominick permalink
    June 4, 2009 5:24 am

    Where might I find solid, current opinion research showing how Canadians feel about their health care system?

    • reneethewriter permalink
      June 5, 2009 8:26 pm

      Hi Ray,

      Not sure about exact article citations but the following website in the past have been helpful:

      PubMed – type in parameters of your choice – scientific/medical but some public policy re CDN and your query

      CHSRF (cdn) – policy orientated and used to have quite a few “evidence based” case studies/poll info
      KUU (cdn/quebec based) probably the best CDN research site re health in Canada and “knowledge/public policy” themes
      CIHR/CIHI – fed funded/scholastic health research sites – type in your query

      Also, Angus Reid, Environics website on google and then your query

      The Economist did a large european/cdn/U.S. study on social mobility and access to healthcare that included a subset of data on “cdn/us” “attitudes to single payor” etc but i don’t remember the link nor if the CDN data was parsed/disaggregated from n.american etc

      sorry for cryptic typing – tired. r

      let me know this helps. r

  4. nmboudin permalink*
    May 31, 2009 12:29 pm

    As the majority of the world’s population goes into retirement, public health care’s liquid assets have to do more with less. Less people will soon be supporting a large population, one that needs more medical care. I love our Canadian system, and was educated as a child that it is our entitlement. Though it breaks my heart, my belief in the viability of the current model is being challenged by these tectonic shifts in demography and economics.

    I am not suggesting that the conservative voices opposing reform in the US are correct; my wife worked there as a travel nurse and witnessed an environment where nurses spent more time charting for the purposes of liability protection and HMO billing than providing care – a clear case for change.

    I think we need to start thinking about alternative solutions to save and promote universal care.

  5. corsullivan permalink*
    May 29, 2009 12:01 pm

    I suspect the attack ads are targeted at people who (1) can’t be bothered to look at the proposed health care reforms in very much detail, and (2) are predisposed to think that government is inherently wasteful, incompetent or even malicious in comparison to the private sector. There may not be all that many Americans who fit this description, but I suspect there are enough to make the ads worthwhile.

    Of course, proponents of public health care could easily find middle-class Americans with equally horrific stories about their HMOs, or for that matter lower-income Americans with horrific stories about what it’s like not to have any coverage at all. Have you noticed any ads along these lines?

  6. May 29, 2009 7:06 am

    As you aptly point out, the Obama plan bears precious little resemblance to our current Canadian system. If anything, the debate in the US now is a kissing-cousin of the historic developments surrounding Ottawa’s push in 1957-58 to introduce the provincial/federal cost-sharing through the Hospital and Diagnostic Services Act in 1957. One of the stumbling blocks in that debate between the stakeholders concerned the role private insurers would have under the new agreements. While many provinces were eventually forced to enact a “prohibition” on private participation in the health insurance field, others were not. In many ways the arguments advanced here in Canada in the 1950s in favour of maintaining the role of private insurers such as Great West Life, etc., are the same ones that now seem to be echoing south of the border. Funny.

  7. Dan Udey permalink
    May 28, 2009 4:14 pm

    I don’t get it. When the church helps others, it’s charity. When the government does it, it’s evil socialism. What the US obviously needs is to leave the sick and the dying in the gutter, because being without healthcare is obviously the best way to go.

    Seriously, if it works for every other country in the world, and if the US’s system doesn’t work (it doesn’t), then why NOT change?

  8. May 28, 2009 12:30 pm

    I’m sick of Republicans recounting tails of Canadian and British healthcare failings. It’s such a distortion of the truth.


  1. Part 4: Canadian Health Care and U.S. Health Reform Debates « Canada’s World
  2. Defending Canadian Health Care in America: An Opportunity for a Canadian Liberal Lion to Emerge? « Canada’s World
  3. Canadian healthcare in a South African debate « Canada’s World

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