Canadian Healthcare not in the media? Web 2.0 to the rescue!

As a follow-up to my post about the delusion, seemingly common among many Americans, that America has the best health care in the world, it seems appropriate to link to an interesting article over at the Nieman Center, noting the lack of in-depth coverage of the Canadian health care system in US media.  But there’s all kinds of opportunities for the New York Times to cover this, after all they have Canadian employees in their Totronto bureau.  They could just ask them.

To be sure, there is mention of the Canadian system often enough, but it’s a particular kind of superficial coverage that rarely mentions certain facts, for example, Most Canadians are in fact, in survey after survey, rather happy with their health care system.

(The article at the Nieman center is also one of those great headlines as a question that we have seen before… Note that asking good questions is something the Nieman Watchdog has a knack for doing.)

So what do Canadians think about their healthcare?  Why isn’t that information easy to come by in US newspapers? How will the problems with the American healthcare system best be exposed? All answered below the fold….

What’s the Canadian medical system like, anyway?

Consider the New York Times, which has a bureau in Toronto, and Washington Post, which had one until recently. Over the years, to be sure, these great newspapers have published hundreds of articles, op-eds, and letters about universal health-care systems, many concerning Canada’s government-financed single-payer.

In July 1993, the Post published a 3,143-word article that began: “Canadians watching the Clinton administration formulate its health-reform proposals know well how expensive it is to run a national system with universal coverage:  They have one, and evidence is mounting that they can’t afford it.” The story proceeded in this vein until the 32nd paragraph, which reported: “[M]ost Canadians, according to recent polls, are satisfied with their system and do not want to change it.” [emphasis by EF] It was the unelaborated news of contented Canadians that would deeply affect millions of Americans when they saw “Sicko” 14 years later.

I have a more basic criticism of coverage by major U.S. news organizations: With rare exceptions, they have not done the long-form journalism on single-payer that would present all of its pluses, minuses, and pulses. I mean comprehensive, in-depth coverage that would enable Americans to relate to Canadians—patients, physicians, other care-givers, administrators, taxpayers, the wealthy, the middle-income, the poor—much as does “Sicko.”

I would tend to agree with this observation–it seems the Canadian system is almost never praised, and is almost always held up as a kind of object lesson–usually with some story about someone who had a long wait. But many times the wait in America is also too long, and the patient ends up dying waiting for some expensive procedure to be approved, or being denied coverage altogether:

Claim denied? Says who?
Stacey L. Bradford

Some 91,000 thousand formal complaints against health plans are filed with the Department of Labor each year. And experts believe that represents just a small proportion of the disputes patients have with their health insurers. According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all consumers report some kind of problem with their health plans. The most common complaints include delays or denials of coverage or care, billing and payment problems and difficulty seeing a physician. And now that nearly 80% of consumers with private insurance have some type of preferred-provider plan or other form of coverage that allows them to see out-of-network doctors, the potential for disputes over claims will only grow. While in-network doctors are paid negotiated rates directly by health plans, insurers can question and reject charges by outside providers.

What remains to be seen though is what Web 2.0 will do to the health care reform movement. It is one thing for Michael Moore to make a movie like Sicko, as moving as it might be, but quite another for those who have run-ins with our dysfunctional healthcare system to post videos like these on you tube:

There’s no doubt that the public debate on healthcare will be shaped by this, the voice of the 90,000, or so who will, instead of complaining to the Department of Labor, post their own complaint, for all to see, and all to feel, too.

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1 comment
  1. Adam C. Sieracki said:

    As a Canadian, here are a few observations about our health system:

    The doctor shortage you’ve probably heard of is due to one thing only–the closed-shop nature of medicine. With the support of pundits from left to right, Canadian Medical Associations limited enrolment in med schools. The reason was supposedly that ‘excessive’ supply of doctors causes escalating medical costs; the real reason was to create a sellers’ market for doctors’ services, by choking off supply. This had nothing to do with ‘socialist’ medicine, but is the result of the monopoly power of professional associations, as stewards of the healthcare system.

    Many things in Canada AREN’T covered, such as prescription drugs and EMS service. Rich and well-connected people ‘jump the que’, like NDP leader Jack Layton (who had his knee repaired at a private clinic). Layton’s union constituency doesn’t care about the people who don’t have gold-plated union health plans (‘private sector’, but which everyone ends up paying for through taxes and costs passed on by companies). Nonetheless, the Canadian system DOES work pretty well. Our hospitals are great.

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