Opponents of Obama's health care plan warn that it's too expensive, too restrictive, and worst of all, suspiciously Canadian. This week Canadian health care victims have appeared on American TV, where they've offered testimonials about their broken system. But how bad is it, really? The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Maureen Taylor describes what health care is really like north of the border.
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This is On the Media. I'm Mike Pesca. Now, let me read something else from the memo by Republican message-maker Frank Luntz, who we heard from at the beginning of the show. This is from Point 5, quote: “The health care denial horror stories from Canada and Co. do resonate, but you have to humanize them.” I don't know if Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas got the memo.
CONGRESSMAN LOUIE GOHMERT: You get it? One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine?
MIKE PESCA: Actually, Chairman Gohmert, if anything, understates the case. Health care is so bad in Canada that statistics show that five out of five Canadians will die during their lifetimes, or soon thereafter. We were wondering how the portrayal of the Canadian health care system seemed to a Canadian, in fact, to an informed Canadian. Maureen Taylor is a health reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Maureen, welcome to the show.
MAUREEN TAYLOR: Good to be here.
MIKE PESCA: What do Canadians make of how their health care system is being portrayed in the U.S. these days?
MAUREEN TAYLOR: I think we're actually saddened that you could use something that we find works so well, the Canadian health care system, to scare Americans into voting this down and being afraid to move forward with this.
MIKE PESCA: Unintended consequence of the health care debate: a nation feeling sorry for the United States, that nation being Canada.
MAUREEN TAYLOR: [LAUGHING] Yes.
MIKE PESCA: How much does the Canadian system resemble what Obama is proposing?
MAUREEN TAYLOR: Actually, very little. I'm no expert on what President Obama is proposing, but I know that he would allow a public option, alongside the private options that people have now. You will still have a very different system from Canada’s.
MIKE PESCA: Not only have members of Congress gone to the floor and described the Canadian health care system in unflattering terms, not only have commercials run, but the other day on FOX News Neil Cavuto had a guest who was Chironed [?] literally as Canadian Citizen – that was her expertise – and she told the story about bring her sick son to the U.S. after years of waiting for treatment. Do those stories come out in Canada very often, people who had to leave the country to get better treatment?
MAUREEN TAYLOR: As a health reporter, I get phone calls and emails from people who feel that there is an experimental treatment that they read about on the Internet and their doctor said it’s not covered in Canada, so they have to go to the States to get it done, and now their provincial government won't reimburse them the cost of going down there to get it done. Well, I rarely put these people on television in my stories because the kind of medical stories I do are usually not about experimental treatments. I don't want to leave people with the impression that this is what everybody should have. I do a lot of research into the medical literature and the science behind it because I have an expertise in that area, and so I leave those stories for other reporters to do.
MIKE PESCA: The other kind of story, not just people who are looking for experimental treatment who've come to the United States, but we do hear stories in the United States about Canadians who just can't wait in line any longer, whether it’s for something lifesaving or something that’s a quality of life. We have heard many, many stories about Canadians who say, that’s it, I'm going to Buffalo, I'm going to pay for whatever it is – my hip replacement, my MRI, what have you. Do you cover those kinds of stories? Is that actually a common thing that goes on in Canada?
MAUREEN TAYLOR: Let's talk about one that’s been in a commercial down there in the United States, a woman named Shona Holmes, who says that she would be dead within a year because doctors in Canada were making her wait six months to have her brain tumor removed.
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SHONA HOLMES: I am a Canadian citizen, and as my brain tumor got worse, my government health care system told me I had to wait six months to see a specialist. In six months, I would have died.
MAUREEN TAYLOR: FOX News and CNN actually put in the Chiron [?] that she had brain cancer. Well, in fact, I looked at the Mayo Clinic website where she got the surgery done, and she did not have brain cancer. What she had was actually a cyst in her pituitary gland, which you can call it a tumor if you want, but it’s not a cancerous tumor. And it was causing her some hormonal problems and pressing on her optic nerve to give her some vision problems. This is not a life-threatening thing. I don't deny that it would be very disturbing to have vision problems and be told that we're not going to be able to operate on that for six months. So she went to the States and had this done. But nobody at the Mayo Clinic is claiming that they saved her life, yet this is being reported in the American media as a woman with brain cancer who would have been dead had she let the Canadian health care system prevail. It just makes me angry that the media isn't looking into this a little more. It wasn't hard for me to find out what she actually had and do a little research on it. People, I'm not walking over a lot of dead bodies here on my way into the studio.
MIKE PESCA: [LAUGHS] Maureen Taylor covers health care for the CBC. Thank you very much, Maureen.