One day, if you or someone you love needs unaffordable medical care, you'll look back at this opportunity to get universal health care and remember either pushing for it, doing nothing or even actively opposing it.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published July 21, 2009
Dear Americans, I know you're being bombarded by anecdotes about Canadian health care right now, and the plural of anecdote is not data. The plural of anecdote is apparently television commercials, which I hear you're seeing a lot of right now, some featuring a Canadian whose story might not be quite true.
Most of my anecdotes involve other people. I've broken my arm, sustained some relatively minor burns, contracted pneumonia and dealt with the aches, pains and ailments that everyone gets, but I've been fortunate enough to have avoided anything serious.
Not everyone I know has been so lucky.
A friend was diagnosed with leukemia last summer. Since then, she has endured grueling chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and is now cancer-free. She is just 26 years old.
A family member recently had knee surgery and is now the proud owner of two titanium knee joints. Only months before, he suffered a heart attack and had quadruple bypass surgery. He's not just alive, he's enjoying life and his grandchildren.
None of these medically advanced procedures required direct payment. We all helped pay to save their lives, and in return, we get the incredible social benefit of having them around, and the direct economic benefit of retaining them as productive members of society.
On the other hand, my neighbour recently complained about her experience bringing her daughter to a local emergency room. Her three-year-old daughter had bumped her head, causing a goose egg, so she roared off to the hospital.
She returned home after an unsuccessful four-hour wait for a doctor. Her daughter was fine. After all, it was just a bump on the head, and the ER has more important things to worry about. When everyone is eligible for health care, it is the ones who need it the most that are seen first.
(Note that a failure to see a doctor does not mean you do not see a medical professional - people arriving in an emergency room are assessed by registered triage nurses, who judge what attention they require.)
Anecdotes like these are not data, but they are important because they represent the average experience of Canadians. Regardless of what you may be hearing, this really is what universal health care in Canada is like: not perfect, but pretty good overall. We might complain about it, but there's no way we'd give it up in favour of the American system.
If you don't believe Canadians like me, when we tell you that this is your best opportunity to get a system that is cheaper, fairer and more effective than the one you have right now, ask yourself a simple question: why would we lie? Do you really think that we're trying to saddle you with an expensive, broken system?
Sure, many of us are angry with America over the way things have gone for the last few decades and particularly the last eight or so years, but in spite of all that, we still like Americans. Hearing about the people who go bankrupt every year because of medical expenses - 60 percent of all Americans who go bankrupt due so from medical bills - whether they have health insurance or not - saddens us.
Reading about people who go without medical care because they can't afford it and eventually die of treatable illnesses appalls us. Seeing our medical system trashed in right wing television commercials infuriates us.
Some day, you or someone you love will need medical care that just isn't affordable unless it's paid for by the government. When that day comes, you'll look back at this opportunity to get universal health care and you'll either remember how hard you pushed for it, or you'll remember doing nothing or even actively opposing it.
At that moment, the issue will not be political, it will be deeply personal. At this moment, you need to make a decision based on that moment, because that's what this issue is really about.
That moment is going to lead to an anecdote of your own. I hope that anecdote is about a medical success chalked up to a universal health care system, instead of the first of many chronicling frustrating negotiations with insurance companies, or worse, a descent into debt and worsening illness.
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