US Security Must Not Miss the Perils of Abusive Reporting of Neighbours’ Institutions

The New York Times (11/06, “This Time, We Won’t Scare” by Nicholas D. Kristof) has our thanks for correcting the gross misrepresentation of Canada’s health system in the recent election campaign: “Perhaps you’ve seen those television commercials denouncing health care reform as a plot to create a Canadian-style totalitarian nightmare, and you feel a bit scared.

“Back in the election campaign, some people spread rumors that Barack Obama might be a secret Muslim conspiring to impose Sharia law on us. That seems unlikely now, but what if he’s a covert Canadian planning to impose…health care?

“Rick Scott, a former hospital company chief executive, leads a group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. He was forced to resign after his hospital defrauded the government through over-billing and is now spending his time trying to block meaningful health care reform by terrifying us with commercials of ‘real-life stories of the victims of government-run health care.

“So here’s a far more representative ‘real-life story.’

“Diane Tucker, 59, is an American lawyer who moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2006. Like everyone else there, she now pays the equivalent of just $49 a month for health care.

“Then one day two years ago, Ms. Tucker was working on her office computer when she noticed she was having trouble typing with her right hand.
“I’d realized my hand was numb, so I tried standing up to shake it out,’ she remembered. ‘But I had trouble standing.’

“A colleague called 911, and an ambulance rushed her to the nearest hospital.

“‘An emergency room doctor met me at the door, and they took me straight upstairs to the CT scan,’ she recalled. A neurologist explained she had suffered a stroke.

“Ms. Tucker spent a week at the hospital. ‘The doctors were great, although there were a couple of jerks,’ she said. ‘The nursing staff was wonderful.’

“Still, there were still two patients to a room, and conditions weren’t as opulent as at some American hospitals. ‘The food was terrible.’
“Then again, the price was right. ‘They never spoke to me about money,’ she said. ‘Not when I checked in, and not when I left.’ Scaremongers emphasize the waits for specialists in Canada, and there’s some truth to the stories. After the stroke, Mrs. Tucker needed to make a routine appointment with a neurologist and an ophthalmologist to see if she should drive again. Initially, those appointments would have mean a two- or three-month wait, although in the end she managed to arrange them more quickly.

“Ms. Tucker underwent three months of rehabilitation, including physical therapy several times a week. Again there was no charge, no co-payment.
“Then last year Ms. Tucker fainted while on a visit to San Francisco, and an ambulance rushed her to the nearest hospital. But this was in the United States, so the person meeting her at the emergency room door wasn’t a doctor.

“‘The first person I saw was a lady with a computer,’ she said, ‘asking me how I intended to pay the bill,’ Mrs. Tucker did, in fact have insurance, but she was told that she would have to pay herself and seek reimbursement.

“Nothing was seriously wrong, and the hospital discharged her after five hours. The bill came to $8,789.29.

“Ms. Tucker has since lost her job in the recession, but she says she’s stuck in Canada – because if she goes back to the United States, she will pay a fortune for private health insurance because of her history of a stroke. ‘I am trying to find another job here,’ she said. ‘I want to stay here because of medical insurance.’

“Another advantage of the Canadian system, she says, is that it emphasizes preventive care. When a friend was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic, he was put in a free two-year program emphasizing an improved diet and lifestyle – and he emerged as being no longer prone to diabetes.
“If Ms. Tucker’s story surprises you. you should know that Mr. Scott’s public relations initiative against health reform is led by the same firm that orchestrated the ‘Swift boat campaign’ against Senator John Kerry in 2004. These commercials are just as false, for President Obama is not proposing government-run health care – just a public insurance element in the mix.

“No doubt there are some genuine horror stories in Canada, as there are here in the US.

“But the bottom line is that America’s health system spends nearly twice as much as Canada’s (building the wealth of hospital tycoons like Mr. Scott). Yet our infant mortality rate is 40% higher than Canada’s, and American mothers are 57% more likely to die in childbirth than Canadian ones.

“In 1993, the ‘Harry and Louise’ commercials frightened Americans into questioning health reform. Let’s ensure those scare tactics don’t work this time.”

– from Economic Reform, July 2009