Talking to Americans

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
February 18th, 2010

As I am travelling in the United States (U.S.) this week (thank heaven for internet-based jobs) the debate over health care reform is in full swing. Whenever My husband and I have travelled in the U.S., we have never been lacking questions about our medical system from people we meet. The questions come up everywhere and seem to be one of the first things people want to know from us once they find out we are Canadian.

Walking out of a concert at the Gorge, WA last year the people beside us immediately asked, “So, do you really get health care when you need it and it doesn’t cost?” This weekend at a gas station, the same question arose, “You mean if you break your arm you can get help and it doesn’t cost?” Walking down the street in Las Vegas after a concert two years ago we met some guys from Los Angeles whose first question was about our health care – even though we were all at the same concert the topic quickly changed to medical costs. Young and old, Americans are interested in our system and quickly see how it could help them.

There’s no way to know which system is better. When you look around in the U.S. you can see that the private sector philosophy can be beneficial – there’s a larger variety of specialty medical care, and gaps that we expect our government to provide often are filled by the ambitious entrepreneur. In the Boundary, we are pushing for local government and Interior Health to resolve the transportation needs for people who are ill to get to medical appointments. In the meantime, we rely on volunteers. In the U.S., I saw a mini-van drive by whose logo showed that they provide transportation for medical appointments. There are shorter wait times for specialists as well.

But what I do see as the best of our system is that 100 per cent of the population has access to their needed medical care without mortgaging their home. According to a recent Reuters article on health care reform, healthcare spending in the United States is about $2.3 trillion annually, or about 16 percent of the U.S. economy. Despite the high spending levels, some 30 million U.S. citizens are uninsured and do not have access to routine healthcare. And the insurance companies are looking at double-digit increases to premiums for those who do have insurance.

Ten per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 16 percent of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage. In essence, the U.S. system is considerably more expensive than Canada’s. Part of the reason for this is uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S. still get sick and eventually seek care. People who cannot afford care wait until advanced stages of an illness to see a doctor and then do so through emergency rooms, which cost considerably more than primary care services.

Which is better? Well, I for one appreciate the fact that my health care is affordable and available. Yes, we have problems in our system including wait times, and there is stress on the system as the population ages, but it is nice to know I don’t have to sell my house to get care I need. We’d all like to see improvements in the system, but all-in-all, I prefer to know that the net is there. Besides, what else would we talk about with the Americans?

Categories: Op/Ed