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U.S. Senate hears Canadian doctor on health care in Canada

By Ken Hanly     Mar 21, 2014 in Health
Washington - At a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Dr. Danielle Martin, a Toronto family physician defended the single-payer system.
Senator Sanders said: “What this hearing is really about is two fundamental issues. First, the U.S., the wealthiest country on the planet, is the only major industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its citizens. Should we consider joining the rest of the world? I’d argue we should, Second, the U.S. spends twice as much as other countries that have much better health outcomes. What can we learn from these countries?”
Representatives testified from a number of countries including Taiwan, Denmark and France. Jakob Kjellberg, an economist from Copenhagen, noted that "all citizens have access to care: no one may be denied services on the basis of income, health, age, or employment status." Victor Rodwin, an expert on the system in France, noted that the French have easy access to primary health care, and specialty services at half the per capita costs of the U.S.
Hospital stays and costs for operations are far higher in the U.S. than in France or Germany. German and French hospitals charge about $3,000 for an appendectomy, whereas the average price for the procedure in U.S. hospitals is $13,000 with some hospitals charging as much as $28,000.
As you can see in the appended You Tube video, some senators were out to get the Canadian defender of the Canadian system, Dr. Danielle Martin, who as well as being a family physician is vice-president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women's College Hospital in Toronto. Senator Sanders, chair of the committee, had his own friendly questions. He asked her if Stephen Harper was a socialist! Of course he is a right wing Conservative. He says he supports our system but as with most recent federal governments he is not giving the provinces the money they need to improve the system and cut down waiting times. They system is not as extensive to begin with as many European systems lacking a universal pharmacare program or dental coverage among other issues.
Martin told the committee: “I do not presume to claim today that the Canadian system is perfect or that we do not face significant challenges,The evidence is clear that those challenges do not stem from the single-payer nature of our system. Quite the contrary.”
She also noted that there is strong public support in Canada for a system where access to treatment is not dependent upon ability to pay. In contrast to the U.S. system she said: “We do not have uninsured residents. We do not have different qualities of insurance depending on a person’s employment. We do not have an industry working to try to carve out different niches of the risk pool. This is a very important accomplishment and as we watch the debate unfold as to how to address the challenges you face, we are reminded daily of its significance.”
Acknowledging that there is a problem of wait times in Canada, she said that there is a lot of work being done on the issue but that introducing more private health care was not a solution and could even make wait times worse by drawing doctors away from the public system.
Sally Pipes, who has long been an opponent of the Canadian system and became an American citizen and heads a think-tank in San Francisco which advocates a free market, was obviously brought in to counter any positive presentations about the Canadian system. On the panel too there were those primed with ammunition to fire against Martin. Republican Senator Richard Burr an opponent of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare asked Martin: “On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year, do you know?” Martin responded: “I don’t sir, but I know there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.”
Both Pipes and Burr brought up the case of former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams going to Florida for surgery. Martin noted that it was a doctor in Toronto who had pioneered the surgery that Williams had performed in Florida. No doubt Williams went to Florida so he could get the surgery done right away.
Martin thought that it was a positive sign that the U.S. was looking at other systems. As well as being a family doctor, Martin has a master’s degree in public policy. She is a recipient of the Canadian Medical Association Award for Young Leaders and was a member of the Health Council of Canada.
More about US versus Canadian healthcare, Health care system, Single payer
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