The favorite (if not only) talking point of boosters of the awful American health care system, when confronted with data showing that health outcomes are so much better in single-payer systems like those in Canada, is to point to the wait times for elective treatments in those countries. It is true that for elective procedures, you may have to wait for some time. As a result, those in Canada who can afford it sometimes cross the border to the US and pay for treatment that they could have had for free at home, a fact that is seized upon eagerly to argue that this shows how superior the US system must be.
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the strongest advocates in Congress for a single-payer system, held a hearing on it and invited seven experts (one from Canada, two from Taiwan, one from Denmark, and three from the US) to give testimony. You can see the 90-minute hearing below.
At one point at Sanders asked all seven whether health care should be a right for all people regardless of income. It was interesting that two Americans from think tanks (Sally Pipes and David Hogberg) were the only ones who said no. But when Sanders asked them if they felt that Medicare should be abolished, they were clearly uncomfortable and danced around the question. This exchange begins at the 54:00 mark.
One of the witnesses was Dr. Danielle Martin of the Women’s Health College in Toronto who was quite frank about the fact that wait times are a problem in Canada and that they are seeking ways to reduce them.
Republican senator Richard Burr of North Carolina asked questions designed to perpetuate the myth that the US has the best health care system in the world and Michael Hiltzik describes how Martin politely but sharply batted down all his loaded questions and handed him his hat. The best part came beginning at the 1:00:15 mark.
BURR: Why are doctors exiting the public system in Canada?
MARTIN: Thank you for your question, Senator. If I didn’t express myself in a way to make myself understood, I apologize. There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada, and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years.
BURR: On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?
MARTIN: I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.
Burr wisely decided to move on but not before mentioning that old chestnut that of course everyone in the US has access to health care because they can always go to the emergency room. It amazes me that they think that having parents haul their sick children into emergency rooms where they compete for attention with accident and victims of violence is an argument in favor of US health care.