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A Long Shadow Hinders Health Care Progress

A Long Shadow Hinders Health Care Progress

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.

In a fascinating piece for The New York Times, Martin explains how so-called shortcomings in the Canadian health care system are weaponized by U.S. critics in attempts to derail improvements there. The truth is, Canada falls short because of too little centralization and universality—and it’s often that harsh U.S. criticism trickling into the debates here poisoning progress. She argues that the near-constant assault on Canadian health care by U.S. critics actually costs Canadians—with that shadow creating greater hesitation to offer fuller benefits:

Here are some highlights:

Too many Canadians and Americans are negatively fixated on each other’s health systems — and the distortions that accompany so many conversations about health reform make it harder to improve care on both sides of the border.

Canadians staunchly support our universal health care system, according to polls over many years. We live longer, healthier lives than Americans, and our survival rates for cancer and other diseases are comparable. The father of universal health coverage in Canada, Tommy Douglas, is considered a national hero.

Like much of Europe, Canada considers access to health care a right on par with the right to food and shelter. In a country where medical bankruptcy is almost unheard of, we are reminded of our privilege every time we read about the shortcomings of the American health care system.

And yet Canadians are forced to defend our health system every day in the American media. American politicians grossly distort reality, proclaiming as fact the myth that Canadians die waiting for treatment.

More robust dialogue is needed to really tackle these important problems — but the long American shadow chills our discussions. Fear of an American-style market-based system inhibits a national conversation about how to expand the breadth of coverage and increase the timeliness of services. Instead of talking about how to make our system better, we’re talking about how much worse things are in the United States.

And such behavior is evident on both sides of the border: Instead of closing their insurance coverage gaps, many Americans are busy pointing fingers at our difficulties. It’s an absurd habit that needs to end so that both countries can engage in more meaningful debate about how to fix our systems.

Read the full op-ed here.