Dr. Danielle Martin sees the cracks and challenges in our health care system every day. A family doctor and national media commentator on the health issues that hit closest to home for Canadians, Dr. Martin speaks with passion on our national health-care system, defending and defining the ways we can make it even more worthy of our immense national pride. Yesterday, Dr. Martin joined US Senator Bernie Sanders and other high-profile Democrats to help introduce a “Medicare for All” bill:
“I wish that all of my American neighbours could experience the same simplicity in their moments of need,” Martin continued. “And I hope that the American people will seize this opportunity to declare to each other, and to the rest of the world, that you do believe access to health-care is a human right.”
The occasion was momentous: Sanders, joined by high-profile Democratic colleagues in the Senate, was introducing a “Medicare for All” bill to transform the U.S. health system from a patchwork of private and public insurance to a government-run single-payer system like Canada’s.
“Health-care in America must be a right, not a privilege,” he said. “Today we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international disgrace of the United States, our great nation, being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health-care to all of our people.”
Sanders, the Vermont social democrat who lives near the border, has made Canada central to his initial pitch. He extolled Canada’s single-payer system in a New York Times op-ed on Wednesday morning and then at the rally on Wednesday afternoon.
“You know, I think it is high time that we started taking a look at what countries around the world were doing in providing quality care to all of their people in a far more cost-effective way than we do. And one of the examples of a single-payer system that is working well, that is popular, is the Canadian system,” Sanders said in introducing Martin.
Martin, a vice-president at Women’s College Hospital and the former chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, came to the senator’s attention with the moment that made her an internet sensation.
Testifying before a Sanders-chaired U.S. Senate committee in 2014, Martin trounced an ill-prepared Republican senator who peppered her with negative questions about Canadian care.
The video has been viewed millions of times. Sanders’s aides have kept in touch, and they invited her back to town for his big day.
Sanders is still years, perhaps decades, from a realistic chance of a legislative victory. But the Wednesday scene showed just how much has changed in two years.
Sanders campaigned on single-payer care during his 2016 campaign. Under Barack Obama, however, Democrats lined up behind the significant-but-incremental changes of the president’s Affordable Care Act, relegating Sanders to his regular place on the left-wing fringe.
His position is fast become the party standard.
Unsettled and energized by U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, and dismayed that more than 25 million people remain uninsured, much of the Democratic base is agitating for a true universal system. And now some of their most prominent elected officials are falling in line behind a proposal Hillary Clinton said will “never, ever come to pass.”
Sanders’s bill has quickly gained 16 Senate co-sponsors. Though almost all of them represent liberal states, they amount to a third of the Democratic caucus.
“People who are angry at Trump’s election, a lot of Democratic base folks, are saying, ‘We demand this. We’re tired of tinkering with this, we want to fix it.’ So they’re putting huge pressure on their senators,” said Minnesota State Sen. John Marty, the leading proponent of single-payer there. “And these senators are saying, ‘Oh, what am I going to do? Keep defending a broken system when my folks are saying we want something better and I know the broken system can’t be fixed?’”
Joining Sanders on Wednesday were four senators thought to be contemplating their own runs for president: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.
“I love my northern neighbour,” Booker said, “but it is embarrassing to me to have a Canadian stand here in the capital of the United States of America and talk about a system that takes care of their children better than we take care of our children.”
Sanders would create a system far more generous than Canadian provinces offer. Unlike OHIP, it would offer full coverage for vision and dental care, and partial coverage for prescription drugs, to everyone including illegal immigrants.
The cost, therefore, would be higher. Sanders did not say how he would pay. His bill has no chance of passing under a Republican-controlled Congress, and he described it as a mere first step in a consultative process.
Two-thirds of Americans currently have private insurance, with more than half covered through their employers. Sanders proposes a politically perilous forced transfer of these people onto the government Medicare program currently reserved for seniors.
An unscripted moment soon after the Wednesday speeches underscored just how hard it may be to combat fears about what many Republicans describe as socialized, or socialist, medicine.
As Martin spoke to the media, a Maryland man wearing a pro-Sanders t-shirt approached her to tell her about someone he knew in Canada who had waited more than a year for a hip replacement.
The Canadian system has problems, she told him, but wait times can be improved without leaving people uninsured.
“There’s nothing about a publicly funded, single-payer system that necessarily leads to waits,” she said.
Some Republicans are still attempting to repeal Obamacare, and Trump applauded their effort, without endorsing their specific proposal, in a Wednesday statement. Press secretary Sarah Sanders called Bernie Sanders’s proposal “a horrible idea.”
“I can’t think of anything worse than having the government be more involved in your health care instead of less involved,” she said.