Friday, August 31, 2007

Government can be a force for good

As we consider the fruits of our labor this weekend, most of us will be discussing the growing number of working people without health care. By and large, Americans feel insurance companies are the problem, and a majority of us think the government should provide health insurance for all of us - even if it means raising our taxes.

Canada's health system is often used as an example of the kind of plan we should emulate. Is this a good idea? One Canadian businessman thinks so.
Canadian care costs less, insures all citizens and could help cut U.S. poverty, crime rates

By David Karwacki
The Salt Lake Tribune

(Editor, Salt Lake Tribune: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the U.S. use Canada as its model for health-care reform?”)

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Americans set their sights admirably high by seeking a Jeffersonian guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Advances in medical science and technology, especially diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, can certainly help them achieve those goals - if they can afford them. Many millions, unfortunately, find their life, liberty and happiness threatened because of illness and a lack of access to even basic, let alone advanced, medical care.

Access to universal medical coverage was introduced in my province of Saskatchewan in 1962 and was adopted by the federal government to apply to all Canadians in 1964.

Instead of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Canada’s constitution stresses “peace, order and good government.” We believe that government can be a force for good and in some areas - public health care being one - and can actually do a better job than private corporate interests.

For more than 40 years Canada’s Medicare has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of people, liberated them from the threat of unaffordable medical bills and made it easier for them to pursue their own definition of happiness.

Our Medicare system isn’t perfect, but then neither is democracy. We don’t think that’s reason enough to get rid of them. Besides, there’s more than just a political “feel-good” reason for embracing universal health care. It’s good for business.

I’m the owner of a company in Canada and another in the United States that distribute fresh produce around the globe. My Canadian company has three corporate advantages over my U.S. company and our U.S. competitors: healthy workers, lower operating costs and better worker safety through social cohesion.

In my experience, healthy workers are more productive because they take less sick time than those who don’t, or can’t afford, to take care of their health. Lack of health-care access is a barrier to preventive care. Those who ignore early symptoms of an illness because their credit cards are maxed-out end up being less productive and may have to leave the work force. Then the employer faces the expense of training replacement workers.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that total health expenditures in Canada amounted to 9.9 percent of GDP in 2004. In the United States it was 15.3 percent. And even though Americans spend more on health care, their life expectancy is, on average, two years less than Canadians.

Many U.S. companies enjoy a competitive edge in technology because of the R&D of the military industrial complex. In Canada it’s our single-insurer health-care system that provides us with a competitive advantage.

My U.S. company pays, on average, a premium of $9,300 per year for each employee to provide just basic medical insurance. My Canadian firm pays no premium. The costs are paid out of taxes and from resource royalties.

High health-care costs in the United States have been cited as one very big reason for what some people are calling “the outsourcing of America.” Witness the steady decline of the domestic auto-manufacturing sector.

Finally, I would argue that universal health care provides a social cohesion and increases our general security by helping to lift people out of poverty. A healthy population with access to health care is more likely to be productive and beneficial to the community. The rates of violent crime in Canada have yet to reach even a shadow of what is happening in America.

The economic reasons for universal medical coverage are clear. Just as important, however, is what Medicare says about our country and its people. We believe in the principle that everyone should have access to reasonable health care. That way life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is for all of us - not just those who can afford it [all emphasis added].
Most Americans believe that everyone should have access to health care too, but it won't happen unless we vote for the candidates that see eye-to-eye with us instead of the insurance companies and lobbyists.

unions are on our side. So are Physicians for a National Health Plan, Rep. John Conyers and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. They all sponsor HR 676, which would expand Medicare to everyone. Medicare is a government success. It's provides accessible health care to millions of senior and disabled Americans, and about 98% of the money that goes into the Medicare program comes back out as medical services. I call that a good government program, and we all deserve to have that same level of care.


Larry said...

Good post and one that puts the focus where it should be, instead of the trivial matters of neglect.

abi said...

I think more and more corporations are also on our side - for example, the auto industry, for some of the same economic reasons in the SLC article.

But all the practical, economic benefits of single-payer, not-for-profit health care are no match for two very powerful forces: the private healthcare lobby, and the millions of Americans whose basic philisophic outlook is, I've got mine and f*ck you.

Stephen said...

I think your thoughts are great. I used to think that a more socialized health care was the way to go.

I am still an advocate of government involvement in the industry, but I would be quicker to support some kind of legislation that made the health care industry more competitive.

Socialized health care is better than what we have when we look at the big picture, but our economic system and corporate culture, in my mind offers something in terms of quality that no socialist system has proven to be able to do.

Thanks for sharing. Sorry to ramble on your blog, but I'd love your thoughts.

Kathy said...

Abi, I'm afraid I have to agree with you about the "I've got mine" mentality in this country. The only reason health care polls well is because the problem is becoming insidious and starting to affect people who once felt untouchable. It shouldn't take that to open people's eyes, but like so much in this country, people prefer to turn their heads and ignore the problems.

Stephen, I understand your concerns, but the Canadian health system, and even our Medicare system, are not socialized medicine. Doctors are not paid by the government to practice medicine and patients can choose which hospitals, clinics or doctors they want. The plans basically operate like a big insurance company. They process the medical bills and tell the health providers how much they're willing to pay for various procedures. Hospitals and doctors can choose not to accept Medicare, and I believe the same goes for the Canadian plan.

Regarding quality, recent studies show that America's health care has fallen considerably in some areas (longevity, infant mortality, etc.) and is no longer the best in the world. If you search "health care" at the top of this blog, you'll find lots of posts that give links to statistics and data.

I favor a single-payer, not for profit plan, because it would cover ALL Americans with the basic level of care our seniors and the disabled currently get through Medicare, and it doesn't eliminate insurance companies since people can still buy supplemental policies on their own. Medicare has an excellent record of financial stewardship too, about 98% of the money that goes into Medicare gets spent on medical services. Compare that to private insurance where up to 30% of the money gets spent on administrative expenses like huge CEO salaries.

I hope I'm not the one rambling now (smile), but I wanted to touch on some of the issues you mentioned. It was good to hear from you.