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Dr. Carolyn Bennett sets the record straight for the U.S. Senate

October 1, 2009

I was fortunate enough to hear Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett speak on health care and social infrastructure at a town hall forum here in Milton last week. I was tremendously impressed with her passion and her depth of knowledge and understanding on these issues.

So I was thrilled to hear that Dr. Bennett was in Washington this week testifying before the Special Senate Committee on Aging, explaining how the Canadian health care system works and how we manage equal or better outcomes than the U.S. while spending nearly a third less per capita.

Carolyn Bennett

Why Dr. Bennett was there and not our current Health Minister is a separate question.

There was a rather entertaining exchange between Dr. Bennett and Sen. Bob Corker in which Corker accused Canada and other countries of being “parasites” on U.S. pharmaceutical R&D:

“One of the things that has troubled me greatly about our system is the fact that we pay more for pharmaceuticals and devices than other countries, and yet it’s not really our country so much that’s the problem, it’s the parasitic relationship that Canada and France and other countries have towards us,” the Tennessee lawmaker told Carolyn Bennett.

“Meaning that you set prices and unfortunately all the innovation, all the technological breakthroughs, just about, take place in our country … you benefit from us and we pay for that and I resent that.”

…[Bennett] seemed puzzled by Corker’s remarks, reminding him that drug pricing was a global concern, not something limited to Canada.

“It’s the drug companies, sir, and they’re multi-national — it’s nothing about the United States of America,” Bennett told him.

Aside from the offensiveness of Corker’s assumption that all the great medical innovations happen in the U.S. (uh… insulin? stem cells? remote surgery?), perhaps someone should remind Mr. Corker that the profit incentive in the U.S. system has meant that the vast bulk of R&D investment there goes towards drugs and procedures that serve the fat and wealthy West (Lipitor, Viagra, heartburn remedies, MRIs, gastric bypass) and nearly nothing towards treatments for the things that actually kill the most people in the world, like malaria, diarrhea and TB.

Video of the hearing can be found on the Committee viewer. Dr. Bennett starts her opening remarks at 41:06; questions start at 65:50, with her exchange with Sen. Corker at 71:55.

(I love what she’s wearing, too!)

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