As a Canadian watching the debate over health care in the United States, I can’t help but be amused by the rhetoric that opponents of universal health care use to ensure health insurance companies and health care providers continue to make extreme profits at the expense of their fellow citizens. Why am I amused? Because universal health care is accepted as a most valued right of citizenship in my country.
We had a similar debate back in the 1960s when Tommy Douglas first proposed universal health care. Although the same tired arguments about a person’s right to gouge his fellow man and woman were made by the usual suspects (e.g., vested interests in private-for-profit health care), common sense prevailed and today we have a system that ensures no citizen is without fundamental access to health care services, and no citizen becomes bankrupt as a result of obtaining those services. So, using Canada as an example of a bad health care system just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on this side of the 49th parallel. Citizens here consider their health care system fundamental to being a Canadian, and vigorously defend that system when politicians seek to weaken it. As well, independent surveys of health care systems around the world, place Canada’s as one of the best, and consistently above that found in the U.S.
Can our system be improved? Of course it can! Like most such systems around the world, it has its problems and drawbacks. However, no matter what financial status you may find yourself, as a Canadian citizen, you will never be refused basic health care.
Is there a role for the private sector? Yes, the private sector still provides much of our health care services. Most doctors are employed by the private sector. Insurance companies provide coverage for those services not considered essential by the government (which varies from province to province).
Is it expensive? Yes, like elsewhere in the world, health care costs are constantly rising, and governments struggle to keep pace. However, Canadian health care costs are consistently cheaper than those in the U.S.
How is it paid? Through our taxes. It is one of the major reasons Canadians generally pay higher taxes than citizens in the U.S. But we don’t pay the expensive health care insurance premiums many citizens in the U.S. do. Maybe our taxes aren’t that high after all.
What about wait times? Wait times are indeed a problem, again depending on where you live. Governments and health care providers are constantly trying to lower these times but it is an ongoing issue. However, if you have an emergency condition or are threatened by a fatal disease or condition, wait times are not an issue. Despite what distorted stories you may have heard, such patients are treated expeditiously.
So argue all you want about the need for universal health care, but please don’t distort how we Canadians feel about our health care. While we may criticize specific aspects of our system, we will also defend it as being a most valued benefit of citizenship.