Americans are engaged in a contentious debate over President Obama’s proposed health care reform that would ostensibly guarantee every American access to affordable medical services. Overpowered by excessive hyperbole from both the political right and left, too many citizens have become fearful that access to health care might become blocked by faceless bureaucrats concerned more about budgets than patient needs or that illegal aliens will drive up our taxes with their health-care needs.
While I do not pose as an expert on all aspects of the health care reform debate, there are several useful contributions that I can make to political sanity regarding comparisons with the Canadian health care system, which has been maligned during our national political conflict.
My family and I have been traveling to our northern neighbor for over a quarter century. We join into a cooperative program with a group of Canadians for our vacation each summer and we often visit members of our co-op at other times during the year.
Our conversations often turn to politics, both Canadian and American. This summer, one major topic of discussion concerned American efforts at health care reform. In talking with our Canadian friends, I discovered that most of them are pleased with the medical quality of their health care. They have also been pleased with the up-front cost to them for their medical services. The most negative comments that I have heard have concerned delays Canadians have experienced while waiting for major procedures.
I heard no talk up there about death panels or any of the other fear-inducing charges made by opponents of health care reform in the United States. Canadians appreciate their doctors and they seemed to be basically pleased with the quality of service that they receive. That is anecdotal, not survey, evidence, but my friends there span a variety of careers, philosophies and partisan affiliations.
My own family experienced some of that anecdotal evidence a bit over a decade ago when one of my children was injured diving off a dock at the lodge where we were staying. My youthful diver hit a submerged mooring cable. The injury was not critical, but there was a wound that required medical attention.
We drove to Barry’s Bay. With a population of about 1,200 at the time, it was the only community for several hours in any direction that had a hospital, albeit a very tiny one by Capital Region standards. A visiting physician at the hospital, who was part of a program that brought in doctors on regular tours of duty to the less inhabited rural areas, served us very well. She even had X-rays transmitted to Toronto for specialists to review before she made any treatment decisions. We were very pleased with the service that we received.
Of course, as aliens, we did not qualify for free Canadian care. At first, I was alarmed because they would not accept our health insurance; they would not take our card for payment because many American insurers would refuse to pay bills accrued in Canada.
The bill shocked me. Including the X-rays and the consultations with children’s specialists in Toronto, it came to less than $120 Canadian (then about $90 American). We finished that little emergency very impressed with the quality of health care in the Great White North.
Canadians are generally not very different from Americans. They do have complaints about their national and provincial governments, but they do not appear to be suffering under inferior health care.
Legitimate questions do exist concerning the proposals moving rapidly toward a vote in Washington. As a philosophical conservative, I am always concerned about increasing the size of government bureaucracy and the greater control that it appears to be taking over many aspects of American life.
But from my many visits to our northern neighbor and from the friendships that I have built with the people there, I have to warn my fellow Americans to beware of Canada-bashing on any issue by our domestic zealots who are more concerned with scoring political points than with developing programs that help Americans cope with our turbulent and ever more expensive world. We need intelligent discourse, not political flatulence.
Albert H. deAprix Jr. lives in Scotia and is a former Schenectady County Legislator. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.