A neighbor yesterday told me, in no uncertain words, that Canada has the best healthcare system in the world. He said this without hubris or, in my mind, any feeling of patriotism, though I’m sure that must be an inherent part of his comment. I have no reason to disbelieve him. My experience in the States, with its private and superb doctors and practioners has always left me incredibly impressed. Doctors that I’ve had and nurses I’ve encountered have been, by and large, incredibly talented, committed, and thoughtful. I’m lucky. I realize that 40 million Americans, perhaps more, have no access or have had no access to healthcare.
Coming back to my neighbor’s comment, I believe he knows of what he speaks. He’s a healthcare provider in the province and provides specialized care in a hospital here. He’s traveled and I’m sure he’s read stories about care in the U.S. and elsewhere. I continually confess to people around here my completely naivite and ignorance about Canadian culture and social programs (as well as street names and locations of cities). But this is where my true lack of knowledge bumps up against reality. Are Candians, who genuinely seem happy with their healthcare, better off than Americans? Are they actually healthier, as a recent Harvard Medical School study indicates? Do Americans, who often disparage the Canadian healthcare system, really know anything about it? Is the American media, and its pharmaceutical advertisers, a reliable advocate for American health? Can a bankrupted but excellent American healthcare system really be compared to the Canadian one?
Ultimately, much of this is academic. The Canadian healthcare system, for all of its flaws (e.g. long wait times in some provinces for major surgery, a dearth of good physicians because of a brain drain to the States, problematic differences in quality among different provinces), is inherently democratic and fundamentally cheaper. Only the United States, among industrialized countries, threatens its own, poorest citizens with a lack of healthcare.
I love the U.S. It’s the place where I was made once, healed often, and helped untold times. But the blatant and continued segregation of the country into healthcare haves and have-nots cannot last or stand.