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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canadian smugness can live on

I’ll admit it. Most of my life I have felt a sense of superiority when I compared this country to America, especially when I compared our health care systems.
The richest nation in the world, unable and unwilling to make sure that the most basic needs of their citizens was met? Unconscionable. Meanwhile here in the north we may have wait times and waste, but we hardly ever leave someone outside a hospital to die. Nor do we put sick people in cabs and send them across town to the free clinic, just because they couldn’t produce an insurance card. You aren’t denied coverage for your life-saving surgery because this is the second time you were sick, and the government doesn’t send us bills for a hospital stay that force us to remortgage (and then lose) our homes.
Of course we have problems. I wasn’t blind to them. But at its heart our health care system was allowed to treat patients without worrying about the almighty profit margin, and that single difference allows it to be better. No matter how often America beats Canada in population, wealth, the Olympics, trade disputes, world renown, military might, or hockey, we could always fall back on knowing that we actually try to keep our own people alive instead of letting their last dollar equal their last breath.
Until recently. Thanks a lot, Obama! Blasted bleeding-heart Democrats have taken away our best and brightest spar, giving guaranteed health care to every single American. Sigh. I might as well move down there and start practicing the Oath of Allegiance.
Or should I? The whole thing is being challenged in the American courts (a lot). At first I thought it was just an under-handed effort to undermine legislation that might hurt the precious insurance companies (and it probably still is, at least in part). However, having listened more and read more leads me to believe the court cases have very solid ground on which to stand.
Part of Mr. Obama’s health care reform requires all Americans to get insurance through commercial companies. That isn’t universal health care! Yes, the law also compels those companies to grant insurance to people they would probably rather not insure, but so what?
As a Canadian citizen, while within this country, I will live and die knowing that I am always under the protection of the Canadian health care system. No effort on my part is required to get this wonderful gift, or maintain it. I can’t accidentally forget to renew my insurance or have it cancelled or have my insurer find a loophole that would allow them to let me go. I don’t have to worry about filing claims or having them rejected. Nor do I have to figure out which doctor or hospital I’m allowed to go to in order to be able to go for free. We all get it, automatically, everywhere. That is universal health care.
Democrats don’t have the political power to get real universal health care passed. American lobby groups are just too powerful, and likely to stay that way for some time. Inevitably even this lame, watered-down American version of what we enjoy will be beaten in court on the (valid) argument that forcing anyone to buy something is unconstitutional. That’s assuming it isn’t repealed entirely. How long will it be before they try again? Or will they ever really get it right? Why is it so hard to embrace such a basic, morally-justified concept?
Ah. My sense of self-satisfied smugness looks to be in no real danger.

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