Health care policy is really not Spot's thing. But it's not Sticks or Janet's thing, either. If you read the links to Spot's earlier posts, you will see that the Canadian Mark Steyn certainly isn't the answer.
Both Sticks and Janet quote Mark Steyn's cautionary tale of a woman who had to wait ten months to deliver quadruplets, and when she did, she had to go to the United States to do it: Ten month wait for a maternity ward. The quads were actually delivered early, but never mind.
Here are just a couple of Sara's observations from part one:
Canada's health care system is "socialized medicine."
False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide.
The proper term for this is "single-payer insurance." In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is "Medicare for all."
. . .
Wait times in Canada are horrendous.
True and False again -- it depends on which province you live in, and what's wrong with you. Canada's health care system runs on federal guidelines that ensure uniform standards of care, but each territory and province administers its own program. Some provinces don't plan their facilities well enough; in those, you can have waits. Some do better. As a general rule, the farther north you live, the harder it is to get to care, simply because the doctors and hospitals are concentrated in the south. But that's just as true in any rural county in the U.S.
You can hear the bitching about it no matter where you live, though. The percentage of Canadians who'd consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country's health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.). In spite of that, though, grousing about health care is still unofficially Canada's third national sport after curling and hockey.
And for the country's newspapers, it's a prime watchdogging opportunity. Any little thing goes sideways at the local hospital, and it's on the front pages the next day. Those kinds of stories sell papers, because everyone is invested in that system and has a personal stake in how well it functions. The American system might benefit from this kind of constant scrutiny, because it's certainly one of the things that keeps the quality high. But it also makes people think it's far worse than it is.
Critics should be reminded that the American system is not exactly instant-on, either. When I lived in California, I had excellent insurance, and got my care through one of the best university-based systems in the nation. Yet I routinely had to wait anywhere from six to twelve weeks to get in to see a specialist. Non-emergency surgical waits could be anywhere from four weeks to four months. After two years in the BC system, I'm finding the experience to be pretty much comparable, and often better. The notable exception is MRIs, which were easy in California, but can take many months to get here. (It's the number one thing people go over the border for.) Other than that, urban Canadians get care about as fast as urban Americans do.
. . .
You don't get to choose your own doctor.
Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don't get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!
And here's one that Spot wants Janet, who worries so about health-care rationing to read:
Publicly-funded programs will inevitably lead to rationed health care, particularly for the elderly.
False. And bogglingly so. The papers would have a field day if there was the barest hint that this might be true.
One of the things that constantly amazes me here is how well-cared-for the elderly and disabled you see on the streets here are. No, these people are not being thrown out on the curb. In fact, they live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because they're getting a constant level of care that ensures small things get treated before they become big problems.
The health care system also makes it easier on their caregiving adult children, who have more time to look in on Mom and take her on outings because they aren't working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance.
And from part two:
Government-run health care is inherently less efficient -- because governments themselves are inherently less efficient.
If anything could finally put the lie to this old conservative canard, the disaster that is our health care system is Exhibit A.
America spends about 15% of its GDP on health care. Most other industrialized countries (all of whom have some form of universal care, either single-payer or entirely government-run) spend about 11-12%. Canada spends about 8-9% -- and most of the problems within their system come out of the fact that it's chronically underfunded compared to those other nations. If they spent what the UK or Germany do, those problems would mostly vanish.
Any system that has people spending more and getting less is, by definition, not efficient. And these efficiency leaks are, almost entirely, due to private greed. There is no logical way that a private system can pay eight-figure CEO compensation packages, turn a handsome a profit for shareholders, and still be "efficient." In fact, in order to deliver those profits and salaries, the American system has built up a vast, Kafkaesque administrative machinery of approval, denial, and fraud management, which inflates the US system's administrative costs to well over double that seen in other countries -- or even in our own public systems, including Medicare and the VA system.
Not incidentally: one of the benefits of single-payer health care is that it largely eliminates the entire issue of "fraud." You can only "cheat" a system that already views its primary business as rationing and withholding care. In Canada, where the system is set up to deliver health care instead of profits, and medical access is considered a right, this whole oversight machinery is far cheaper and more compact. In general, the system trusts doctors and patients to make the right choices the first time. As a result, people generally don't have to lie, cheat, and grovel to get the system to deliver the care they need. They just go and get it -- and walk out without a moment's dread about the bills.
Shareholder profit, inflated CEO salaries, and top-heavy administration -- all of which serve to work against the delivery of care, not facilitate it -- are anti-efficiencies that siphon off 20-25% of America's total health care spending. These are huge sums; yet it's mostly money down a gold-plated rathole. In the end, it doesn't provide a single bed, pay a single nurse or doctor, or treat a single patient.
We'll have rationed care
Don't look now: but America does ration care. [are you paying attention, Janet?] And it does it in the most capricious, draconian, and often dishonest way possible.
Mostly, the US system rations care by simply eliminating large numbers of people from the system due to an inability to pay. Last year, one-quarter of all Americans didn't go to a doctor when they needed one because they couldn't afford it. Nearly that many skipped getting a test, treatment, prescription, or follow-up appointment recommended by a doctor. In Canada, those same numbers are in the 4-5% range; in the UK, 2-3%. Also: nearly 20% of all Americans had a hard time paying a medical bill last year; and these stresses now trigger over half of all personal bankruptcies in the country.
Furthermore, nominally having health insurance is no guarantee against financial ruin, as Sicko amply illustrated. Being cut off or denied by your insurance company is rationing, too. And there are vast numbers of fairly well-off Americans -- many of them middle-aged, and too young for Medicare -- who have pre-existing conditions that render them uninsurable at any price. They're one heart attack, one diabetic event, or one bad turn away from financial disaster. Please don't insult these people by telling them that the American system doesn't ration care.
Another persistent (and ridiculously mendacious) rationing myth about the Canadian system is that old people are cut off from treatment and left to die. I've never heard about a single case of this in Canada; but it happens routinely to Americans on Medicare and many private policies, which have strict limits on how long you can stay in the hospital with an acute illness. When the benefits run out, ready or not, they send you home. If you die, you die. The Canadian plan has no such limits: you stay for as long as you need to. But in the US, these limits fit the very definition of "rationed care."
Effectively shutting one-quarter of the population out of the medical system entirely, and putting many of the rest on short rations, certainly does make things so much nicer for those happy few who are still in it. In fact, Americans have these missing millions to thank for their system's impressively short wait times. Only 4% of American have to wait more than six months for non-elective surgeries, while 14-15% of Canadian and Britons do. (Don't blame this on government care, though: in Germany and the Netherlands, the number is closer to 2%.) When conservatives start bellowing about Canada's terrifying wait times (which, by the way, are carefully triaged: it's rare for people to die waiting, though it happens), we need to remind them that there are 75 million Americans who have been wait-listed forever. If my friend's Aunt Millie gets her emergency hip surgery today because I'm willing to hobble along for an extra couple months before getting my knee surgery -- well, for any morally serious person, that choice should be a complete no-brainer.
Spot has probably already cribbed more than he should, but these are two really excellent posts. Read them, print them off, and use them in discussion with the gas bags.
Update: Nick Coleman has a good column today profiling a Minnesota legislator and her experience with the efficient health care system we have in the US:
Shelley Madore has lived through the health care crisis. Even though she had health insurance, Madore was nearly bankrupted when her kids became ill. And the financial and emotional strains of the ordeal helped lead to the end of her marriage, too.
But Madore didn't take her troubles lying down. She stood up. And ran for election. And won. Now, she hopes to change a rotten system from the top.
Madore, 45, is a DFLer from Apple Valley who ran for the state House of Representatives in 2006 after encountering the indifference of legislative leaders to people in her situation. At the time, Madore and her husband, Paul, were earning about $50,000 a year and struggling to make the payments on their modest home and the $908 monthly premium on their health insurance.