By Bob Harwood

The Health Care Debate


America is seemingly at odds with the rest of the western world as it heatedly debates health care reform. Of the 30 developed countries of the OECD, its per capita expenditures on health care are twice the average and an astronomical 17% of GDP. Yet 47,000,000 Americans are without health insurance and 62% of American personal bankruptcies in 2007 were caused by medical costs—yet 78% of those involved did have insurance! Bottom line oriented insurance companies often withdraw coverage at times of greatest need.

Many factors frustrate resolution. House and Senate bills that must be reconciled are already distorted by members attaching provisions to cater to local constituencies or powerful lobbyists and campaign contributors as mid-term elections loom. Communication of such legislation becomes difficult.

Shrill town hall meetings enlisted orchestrated protestors to resist any vestige of a public option. Obama, despite the many other issues on his plate, is now assuming a more active personal role to restore integrity to the debate. But compromises to satisfy some on his right may alienate others who seek fundamental changes in a broken system.

Canadians were drawn into the debate when Shona Holmes was recruited to disparage Canada’s public system. Impatient with the timetable on which that system responded to her cleft cyst she hied off to the Mayo Clinic for surgery performed with gratifying alacrityalbeit for $100,000. The multimillion dollar TV ad program funded by interests opposed to a public option elevated her cyst to a brain tumor and her widely quoted punch line claimed: “Had I depended on the Canadian health care system I would be dead.

Canadians were shocked, primarily because her rhetoric was so at odds with their own experience. Of course there are areas for improvement. But wait times are prioritized by medical assessment, not a queue jumping ability to pay. An Angus Reid poll conducted on both sides of the border as recently as August 2009 showed vastly higher satisfaction rates in Canada. Only Americans at the top of the pyramid to whom cost is no object gave unstinting praise to their system.

In a 2004 nationwide poll Tommy Douglas, the Father of Medicare and founder of Canada’s public health care system, was chosen as “The Greatest Canadian of all time.” At age ten he risked losing his leg after contracting osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone marrow until a doctor, seeing a teaching opportunity for his students, operated without charge. By coincidence, I incurred my osteomyelitis at age nine, spending four Great Depression years in and out of hospital for repeat surgeries on my leg. More spaced surgeries over ensuing decades (while I wore an ankle brace) culminated in 1980/81 with an ankle fusion and a fundamental leg reconstruction. In 1981 I had a heart triple bypass. Later I had angioplasty, a tumor removed from the base of my spine and experienced a mild stroke. I omit mention of decades long chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, erysipelas, and dormant cysts on my lungs.

At 83 I live an active life, travel extensively, enjoy long daily walks year round. In her critique of its health care system, Sonia Holmes does not speak for Canadians, does not speak for me. Because I depended on the Canadian health care system, I am alive today.

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