Inconvenient Facts

Rightie bloggers are gleefully linking to an item in the Toronto Star that pans Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko. The author of the item, Peter Howell, writes,

We Canucks were taking issue with the large liberties Sicko takes with the facts, with its lavish praise for Canada’s government-funded medicare system compared with America’s for-profit alternative.

While justifiably demonstrating the evils of an American system where dollars are the major determinant of the quality of medicare care a person receives, and where restoring a severed finger could cost an American $60,000 compared to nothing at all for a Canadian, Sicko makes it seem as if Canada’s socialized medicine is flawless and that Canadians are satisfied with the status quo.

Moore makes the eyebrow-raising assertion that Canadians live on average three years longer than Americans because of their superior health care system.

In fact, my painstaking research (5 seconds of googling) revealed that Canadians live on average only 2.5 years longer than Americans because of their superior health care system. However, I would have thought 2.5 years is eye popping, too.

Since I haven’t seen the film I can’t judge how Moore describes the Canadian health care system, which does have some flaws. However, compared to our system the Canadian system is, um, way better.

Last week another Canadian, Liam Lacey of the Globe and Mail, wrote,

As in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore uses Canada as an example of a more humane social system. When a Canadian reporter suggested the portrait of the Canadian medical system was unduly rosy, and wait times for care were long, Moore asked the reporter if he’d trade in his health card to join the American system.

“No,” said the reporter promptly, earning a laugh from the audience.

Liam Lacey predicts Sicko will be a hit.

13 thoughts on “Inconvenient Facts

  1. There is one area where US Medicare is doing way better than Canada, and that is mental health care. I have PTSD and need extensive and intensive therapy to get better. With my Medicare coverage, I am able to get the ongoing treatment I need. I have email contact with someone in Canada on Medicare with the same diagnosis. She is only eligible for 6 months of psychotherapy and there is a waiting list to get it. If she were able to pay out of pocket, she would be able to get more long term treatment. But of course, being on Medicare, she is on a fixed and very low income and can’t afford it. In this case, I feel very lucky to live in the US where I can get the treatment I need.

  2. Maha,

    You beat me to it, with the quote about the Canadian reporter who unhesitatingly responded that he wouldn’t trade Canadian medicare for the American system. Amen!

    I haven’t seen Sicko yet, but will make sure to do so. You’ll be hearing from me with my comments on his view of the Canadian system. In the past four years, I have spent too much time staring at hospital ceilings from my bed in the orthopedic unit or the rehab hospital, so I think I will have some salient, albeit anecdotal, comments to make.

    This being said, I fear that Michael Moore does play a bit fast and loose with the truth. His portrayal of Toronto as a friendly burg where no one locks their door is pretty far from the truth, although we still have significantly less violence than in comparably sized American cities.

    Michael Moore has important things to say about serious societal issues. He is a brilliant film-maker and I think his films would be just as good–and much harder to dismiss–if he stuck a bit closer to the truth.

  3. Joanne — so what about those of us who aren’t eligible for Medicare? Which is most of us, last I looked.

  4. It’s too early to say this, because Sicko hasn’t even opened yet, and I haven’t seen it, but judging from the early criticism, I wish Moore had focused on the best socialized system, which many regard as France’s and not Canada’s. The legitimate criticisms of the Canadian system combined with Moore’s rosy view don’t help his argument or the progressive cause.

    Was chatting with an orthopedist a few days ago, who said that health care will be the main issue in the 2008 election. His concern was something you echoed in an earlier thread, about whether we’ll see an overhaul or simply a quick fix.

  5. Thing is, Canadian journalists over the past decade or so have gotten used to describing Medicare in more or less the same way that American journalists have gotten used to describing Social Security: i.e., the most successful and popular public program in the country must be terribly broken, must have something fatally wrong with it, must must must be on the verge of collapse. It’s really not surprising that Moore ran into this attitude, but it doesn’t have much to do with reality, either. It’s just more journalistic group-think.

  6. Here’s the thing about Canadian health care (and I have family experience with it which was incredibly positive which won’t even enter into this): Canadians spend half per capita what Americans spend (just like in the UK, France, and Germany — France and Germany sound like the systems to emulate, BTW). And Canadians get everybody covered for that price, unlike Americans.

    Okay, got that? Those are just facts, simple facts; got ’em? Okay.

    Here’s the deal. The problems with the Canadian system, which studies show gives as good or better care on most aspects of health care compared to the USA, do you think that possibly, just possibly, they would all be solved by doubling the amount they spend on health care?

    Doubling it! That would make Canadian health care as expensive as US health care, yet would cover everyone (unlike US health care) and it’s crazy to imagine that doubling what they spend couldn’t solve virtually every single niggling little problem they have.

    And those studies show that they have no more, and often less, problem than in the USA.

  7. Don’t have the time at the moment Maha, but if I were you I’d search for polls on public support of Canadian medicare. I don’t ever remember seeing one that didn’t show strong majority support for it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn site better than the mess in the states.

    The numbers I’ve seen on expenses are about 2/3rds though, not 1/2.

  8. The right has consistently, and successfully, made use of the anecdotal strategy in badmouthing the universal health systems of other countries like Canada – focussing endlessly on tales of waiting lists for hip replacements or some such.

    Meanwhile, the daily horrors of the American way of health care go unchronicled. If Moore can bring some of these anti-anecdotes to light, more power to him.

    (BTW, the snarking in the U.S. press is getting underway. Check out the 5/22 Washington Post piece.)

  9. Oh, missed this:

    The numbers I’ve seen on expenses are about 2/3rds though, not 1/2.

    From the chart on Kevin’s blog:
    US $6102
    UK $2546
    NZ $2083
    Ger $3005
    Can $3165
    Aus $3876

    Each time I’ve seen numbers they’re similar relative to US spending. Also keep in mind that these other systems typically spend well under 10% of their money on administration costs while the US spends over 30% — 20% simply thrown away (typically into the pockets of insurance companies).

  10. Yet another thing is on what Chet Scoville said in commnet #6, that the conservatives and the press in Canada have been pushing the dissatisfaction idea for many years now. This is working. Canadians’ feeling that health care needs very little changing has dropped a lot since the early 1980s. This would lend support for the idea that there’s fire to go with that smoke the rightwing is blowing, but at the same time they report only 20% feeling it needs little change, the rates for satisfaction with the health care they’ve received is in the high 80% brackets, which suggests that much of the dissatisfaction they do report is based on PR and FUD rather than reality.

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