In the debate on the Obama administration’s health care policy, the term “socialized medicine” surfaces often, with fingers pointed to Canada. A Canadian national living in Seattle weighs in on her health care experiences, both in Canada and the United States.
SEATTLE – What’s in a word?
When it comes to describing President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, much is suggested by conservative use of the term “ObamaCare.” Even a newly-arrived visitor to this country would find the controversy obvious. As a Canadian living in the U.S. now for many years, I have always found American attitudes toward healthcare perplexing. My career has focused on healthcare systems in both countries, so I find the phenomenon of American hostility to “socialized medicine” even less understandable.
Have I been everlastingly grateful to flee the purported queues in the land of my birth and avail myself of the high-tech healthcare available in the U.S.?
Not so much.
The system that I knew from childhood through early adulthood was easily navigated and delivered excellent care. Even my first experience in handling my own insurance plan was seamless. As a 20-year-old university student, I transferred from the provincial university in the city where I’d grown up to the flagship university in another province. I developed a nasty case of bronchitis in my first month at school and needed care. But I was concerned: each province administers its own plan and I didn’t have coverage in my new home province. But the receptionist in the office of the doctor I’d chosen reassured me. All I had to do was fill out one form to apply for coverage – available at the doctor’s office – and my visit would be covered retroactively.
And it was. End of story.
Contrast this experience to my first medical appointment in the U.S. My husband’s employer-provided plan gave us three options, and each offered a small pool of providers compared to the unlimited access with which I’d grown up. I presented myself at the HMO office and was told who my physician would be. I would soon find that appointments were difficult to get for spur of the moment matters, and it would almost assuredly not be “my” doctor who would see me for unexpected needs. All visits had one thing in common, though: paper. It came in many forms – Explanation of Benefits forms (EOB), accident forms to complete if one of my family should be seen for an injury – and it was endless. Premiums were appallingly high compared to the minimal fees I’d paid in Canada, and every visit was subject to co-pays, deductibles, and any number of other complexities.
Americans assumed that I must be delighted to find myself in this land of medical plenty. “I’d hate to live in Canada,” they’d say to me. “You can’t choose your own doctor there.” I was also told about the long waits for care and other horrors of “socialized medicine.”
Why, I wondered, were Americans so set against universal medical coverage? One thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that it would be an assault on freedom. I’m not sure what freedom that would be – the freedom to bear the burden of financial ruin in the event of a catastrophic illness? The freedom to die if one can’t afford medical care? What makes people here demean something that many Canadians prize?
A recent New Yorker article, the Lie Factory, sheds some light on this question. Campaigns Incorporated, a political consulting firm that began in 1933, accepted the assignment of swaying public opinion against health care in California state and national elections in the late 1940s. Once in favor of universal health care by a margin of 4-1, American opinion reversed to 4-1 against. The emotional images crafted by the opinion campaign loom large in the American psyche to this day. In my opinion, the term “ObamaCare” is the latest label used to challenge a policy born of compassion by those who stand to profit.
If this law is overturned, the President’s signature achievement will have been overturned. The real losers, though, may prove to be the American people.