You're not hearing the truth about Canadian health care.
I'm a Canadian living in the United States while I work on my master's degree. And I've had the strange and special privilege of training the eyes of an outsider on America's debate over health care. I've watched this debate and sometimes been mystified and sometimes been inspired by the turns that it has taken. What I didn't expect is to feel hurt. But this is the very emotion that I experience as I hear my country's health care system characterised as something broken and to be feared. I've heard it said that Canadians don't get to choose our own doctors, that government bureaucrats routinely deny us critical or life saving interventions, that our wait times to see a doctor resemble a soviet-era bread line, and even that we killed Natasha Richardson.
Now, don't misunderstand me: Canadian health care is not above criticism and, like every human institution, there are many ways in which it could improve. However, the problem with the criticisms that I've listed above, and with others like them, is this: they're all make-believe.
I'm 36 years old and, throughout my life, I have received prompt and excellent care from the doctor whom I chose. I've never paid a doctor's bill or a hospital bill (there are no deductibles or additional fees) and never had to argue with government or anyone else to receive this care. My father is 84 and, as probability suggests, makes heavier use of the health care system. He receives prompt and excellent care from the doctor whom he chooses. Over the last couple of decades, this care has included several interventions that have prolonged both his life and the quality of his life. He has never paid a doctor's bill or a hospital bill and never had to argue with government or anyone else to receive this care. And, as for the tragic death of Natasha Richardson, her skiing accident killed her because (a) she was not wearing a helmet and (b) when the ambulance came, she refused medical care.
Now, I'm going to anticipate an objection here and talk about cost. In Canada, you're told, we're "taxed to death" to make Universal Health Care possible. Well, consider this: I rarely made a lot of money working in the performing arts but, in my best year (indexed for inflation), I made roughly $70,000 - somewhat more than a statistically average Canadian. During that year the total amount that I paid in taxes - for which I received the roads, the parks, the schools, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and so on, as well as complete health care - was roughly half what it would cost to simply have health insurance for my family in the United States. In other words, I enjoyed Universal Health Care and my take home pay was appreciably higher than that of an American with a similar income.
So far, I've relied on anecdotes to make my case. I'm not a health care expert and I don't to pretend to have a lot of facts beyond my own experience and the experiences of the people I love. So, let me point you at some folks who are experts and who do have the facts. This YouTube video features a number of prominent Canadian health care professionals talking about Universal Health Care. It's informative and, well, quintessentially Canadian: no one in this video is all that charismatic, and there is the general tone of understatement that tends to characterise Canadian debate. It's especially amusing that Dr. Steven Lewis, the second person interviewed in the video, refers to the current attacks on Canadian health care as "mildly irritating."
My family and I are loving the time that we are spending in the United States and loving the people whom we have met here. And it is our wish that all of these people - all of you - would come to enjoy the kind of health care that we enjoy in Canada. I am proud of Canada's health care system: proud of the fact that it is excellent, that is reliable, and that it is available to all regardless of how much money they have in the bank. It is my hope that, someday soon, all of you in this great country will have access to a similar system.
Commentary by Martin Elfert