It was just a matter of time.
With two of the top contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — advocating Canadian-style medicare for the U.S., the flaws and failures of the Canadian system were sure to come under critical examination south of the border.
“Canada's system of socialized medicine is actually a nightmare,” according to a Fox News report. “It has left hospitals overcrowded, understaffed and unable to treat some patients. Americans would face the same dismal reality if Canadian-style Medicare-for-all takes root here.”
Granted, Fox News isn’t exactly an unbiased source. It’s conservative to its very core — even by American standards — and its news and public affairs programming regularly acts as an apologist if not a propagandist for President Donald Trump.
If it was only Fox trashing the Canadian health-care system, it might be a tad cloying, but easy to dismiss as more of the network’s usual ‘America first, free enterprise is the only enterprise’ kind of fare.
Fox’s reporting will likely find its way into Republican talking points, be repeated at Trump’s rallies and read on his Twitter feed, all to discredit the Democrats’ plans to somehow extend health care to all Americans.
Warren and Sanders advocate the most radical realignment of their nation’s health system, but every candidate for the Democratic nomination is calling for easier and less costly access to health-care services, whether through the expansion of Obamacare — promoted by front-runner Joe Biden — or some other combination of private and public insurance.
But Fox isn’t alone in examining Canadian health care and finding it wanting. NPR (National Public Radio) is as even-handed as any news organization on either side of the border, and Boston’s NPR station, WBUR, recently did an expose on health care in Nova Scotia.
NPR’s reporting won’t surprise those Nova Scotians who believe the province’s health system has fallen into disrepair, but the extent of the dysfunction they reported to an American audience is downright embarrassing.
“A lack of long-term care beds, rolling closures at many emergency departments, and overcrowding at others, demonstrate key challenges of health-care delivery in rural Nova Scotia. And the challenges have escalated in recent years, leading many Nova Scotians to say the health system is in crisis,” the station told its listeners in Massachusetts and beyond.
“Without a family doctor, a person with a chronic condition like diabetes must go to an ER or walk-in clinic for insulin and a checkup. Cancerous tumors can go undiagnosed with no regular checkups. This problem also results in long lines at the ER, where Nova Scotians may go for something as simple as filling a prescription.”
While none of this will shock Nova Scotians, it’s not something they’d enjoy hearing aired — as it was — on a Boston radio station two days prior to the province’s Christmas tree lighting up the Boston Common.
The Boston-based NPR station talked to Nova Scotian doctors, patients, and community leaders, but got the cold shoulder from the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). The radio report says that the NSHA denied a request for an interview and simply did not respond to a request for comment. Nice.
I guess we can add “unneighbourly” to the NSHA’s character flaws.
About 15 years ago, a CBC series asked Canadians to pick the Greatest Canadian of them all and a former leader of the federal NDP and premier of Saskatchewan won. Tommy Douglas wasn’t the greatest for those modest political achievements. He was chosen because he’s the father of medicare.
Our health-care system remains a point of Canadian pride and few Canadians would trade our universal system for an American user-pay model.
But at 50-plus-years-old, Canada’s Medicare system — designed as it is around hospitals and doctors — is really showing its age and not just in Nova Scotia.
The U.S.-based Commonwealth Fund is a respected, non-partisan organization that ranks the health-care systems of 11 leading, industrialized nations. For several years running, Canada has finished either ninth or 10th in the Commonwealth rankings. The U.S. system finishes dead last every year, but Canada consistently ranks below countries like Germany, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.
While there are plenty of prescriptions out there to fix Canada’s ailing health system, it feels like there’s also a lack of political will to get on with the job.
If anything can motivative Canadians into dragging medicare into the 21st century, maybe its Americans coming up here and comparing our system, unfavourably, to theirs.