Health care vs. hysteria

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Last fall, I predicted that then U.S. president-elect Barack Obama would quickly run into rough waters, despite all the teary-eyed proclamations of hope and change and open, meaningful dialogue.
Well, the dialogue is certainly open - but meaningful?
Consider this question at a town hall meeting on health care hosted by Massachusetts Senator Barney Frank last week. A young woman stood up and drew a ludicrous comparison of the proposed health-care bill to a policy in Hitler's pre-war Germany.
"Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama had expressly supported this policy?" she asked. "Why are you supporting it?"
This may be one of the crazier questions that have arisen at town hall meetings across the country, but it isn't an anomaly. The meetings - designed to bring the debate directly to the public - have regularly turned into shouting matches. Questioners regularly bring up outrageous scenarios such as "death panels" deciding whether people live or die. Nazi comparisons are raised almost as much as references to Communist Russia, and the contradiction goes unnoticed. At an Arizona meeting, a couple of people showed up wearing guns; one even had a semi-automatic rifle. A rifle! You usually only see that kind of thing in a banana republic.
At his town meeting, Frank decided he'd had enough of the lies and distortions.
To his questioner, he replied, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?" and then ended with a scathing dismissal: "Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table."
Health care is an emotional topic. And there are interests in the U.S. - especially pharmaceutical and insurance companies - who stand to benefit from stirring people into an emotional frenzy.

Pointing to Canada
Fear-mongers have often pointed to Canada as an example of the perils of socialized health care. In Canada, patients are put on long waiting lists, and they can't choose their own doctor.
This is a curious argument, since people often have to wait in clinics and emergency wards in the U.S., as well. More importantly, at least you can get on a waiting list in Canada. In the U.S., you might not be able to afford insurance, or the cost of a procedure, or you stand a good chance of being disqualified by your own insurance company.
If the solution to waiting lists is to boot some people off them, that doesn't seem like a solution at all.
U.S. insurance policies often restrict you to specific hospitals or doctors. Where is the freedom of choice in that?
U.S. doctors are split on the issue of reform, but one of the leading doctors' organizations, the American Medical Association, has explicitly endorsed reform. An anecdote told to me by a New York doctor may help explain why.
At the hospital where he worked, doctors found themselves forced to discharge an elderly patient prematurely because his insurance refused to continue coverage. When the patient's son was informed, he replied, "That's too bad, but at least my stock in that insurance company will stay strong, since they're saving money."
That, in a nutshell, is the sad truth of health care in America. Corporate profits trump all.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), meanwhile, recently decided to advocate for increased privatization of health services.
The idea, members insist, was not to introduce private health care, but to introduce "competition" into the health-care system.
Well, peripheral services such as food and private television are already contracted out in many circumstances. The CMA's resolution could only be a vaguely worded call for privatized health services.

Public opinion
The CMA would have been well advised to consider a poll released a few days before its conference.
Commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition, the poll found that 86 per cent of Canadians preferred "public solutions" be found for health-care problems.
In fact, the Globe and Mail reported, the poll was released as a pre-emptive strike against the upcoming CMA conference.
The debate over health care needs to stay on track and not be hijacked by corporate interests.
In the U.S., the far right has succeeded in whipping up mass hysteria. In their desperation to defeat health-care reform, however, they may be sending the country into a dark place. Because what they defend as free speech has degenerated into alarming displays of ignorance and anarchy.
Let's hope the debate remains more rational on this side of the border.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Canadian Medical Association, American Medical Association, Canadian Health Coalition Globe and Mail The Telegram

Geographic location: America, Canada, Massachusetts Germany Arizona New York

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Recent comments

  • Mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    This is foolishness. As a previous comment stated, ppl in the US are not turned away due to health insurance issues. I agree that the US health care system needs some changes - at the top of the list is tort reform and price transparency. Doctors and hospitals cannot continue to charge different prices per patient, regardless of insurance. Meanwhile, a conversation about health reform without discussing tort reform is pointless. It is the greatest cost born by the health care system. The rules need to be changed, but nothing will convince me that the US health care system isn't the best in the world. I grew up in Canada and now live here and I would rather go to an American hospital any day.

  • why
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    this author is quoting a poll commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition ! and considers that as factual reference!
    the Canadian Health Coalition is a fraudulent union lobby group -an arm of the Canadian Labour Congress and CUPE, the biggest public sector union in Canada. this entity has nothing to do with patients, health, or medicine. it is purely a lobby group, whose main goal is to keep all hospital workers in Canada unionized. if any privatization is introduced, the unions would lose clout and fees.
    the Canadian Health Coalition should change its title to the Canadian Coalition for Union power in Healthcare . it should stop using their ridiculously phony title to mislead people.

  • Steve
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Typical comments from a Liberal Elite, I am On Medicare and if i didn't have a Supplmentary Insurance from Blue Cross it would cost quite a lot of money if i had a serious Health Issue.
    We also Pay a Monthly Premium for Medicare.

  • mainlander
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Shame on the Republicans, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies for stirring up a debate based on lies. The people are arguing against a bill that hasn't even been written yet. They have no idea what it will look like. They are essentially arguing against what they already have - people being denied care because their insurance companies refuse to pay for it. I think the plan is to help people like Steve Penney so they don't have to worry about not being able to afford it and it doesn't cost them an arm and a leg. No one should have to take out a mortgage or declare bankruptcy in order to get healthcare. A lot of people in Canada also have supplementary insurance (through their employers) but they don't have to worry about being kicked to the curb because no one will pay for their care.

    I guess if the GOP wasn't making a small fortune in contributions from these pharma and insurance companies, they might put the people first instead of playing politics.

  • Melanie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I have been a nurse in the U.S. for ten years and have never seen anyone turned away because of lack of insurance. The insured and uninsured receive the same tests, nursing care, and attention from the physicians in the hospital. Maybe there would be more people insured if paying insurance premiums was more important than buying cigarettes or the latest cell phone.

  • Mary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    This is foolishness. As a previous comment stated, ppl in the US are not turned away due to health insurance issues. I agree that the US health care system needs some changes - at the top of the list is tort reform and price transparency. Doctors and hospitals cannot continue to charge different prices per patient, regardless of insurance. Meanwhile, a conversation about health reform without discussing tort reform is pointless. It is the greatest cost born by the health care system. The rules need to be changed, but nothing will convince me that the US health care system isn't the best in the world. I grew up in Canada and now live here and I would rather go to an American hospital any day.

  • why
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    this author is quoting a poll commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition ! and considers that as factual reference!
    the Canadian Health Coalition is a fraudulent union lobby group -an arm of the Canadian Labour Congress and CUPE, the biggest public sector union in Canada. this entity has nothing to do with patients, health, or medicine. it is purely a lobby group, whose main goal is to keep all hospital workers in Canada unionized. if any privatization is introduced, the unions would lose clout and fees.
    the Canadian Health Coalition should change its title to the Canadian Coalition for Union power in Healthcare . it should stop using their ridiculously phony title to mislead people.

  • Steve
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    Typical comments from a Liberal Elite, I am On Medicare and if i didn't have a Supplmentary Insurance from Blue Cross it would cost quite a lot of money if i had a serious Health Issue.
    We also Pay a Monthly Premium for Medicare.

  • mainlander
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Shame on the Republicans, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies for stirring up a debate based on lies. The people are arguing against a bill that hasn't even been written yet. They have no idea what it will look like. They are essentially arguing against what they already have - people being denied care because their insurance companies refuse to pay for it. I think the plan is to help people like Steve Penney so they don't have to worry about not being able to afford it and it doesn't cost them an arm and a leg. No one should have to take out a mortgage or declare bankruptcy in order to get healthcare. A lot of people in Canada also have supplementary insurance (through their employers) but they don't have to worry about being kicked to the curb because no one will pay for their care.

    I guess if the GOP wasn't making a small fortune in contributions from these pharma and insurance companies, they might put the people first instead of playing politics.

  • Melanie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I have been a nurse in the U.S. for ten years and have never seen anyone turned away because of lack of insurance. The insured and uninsured receive the same tests, nursing care, and attention from the physicians in the hospital. Maybe there would be more people insured if paying insurance premiums was more important than buying cigarettes or the latest cell phone.