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Good news about Canadian health care; and about that other country…

The health-care reform law enacted in the United States is a taxpayer-funded gift to the insurance industry, the most important social legislation in decades, or the end of freedom and liberty for Americans. Pundits and advocacy groups gave these and other comments in the wake of Obama’s victory. The Democrats, who have received their fair share of health-industry campaign donations, worked closely with lobbyists to move the bill. Wall Street seemed pleased: stock prices of insurance and pharma companies tended to rise after the law passed. That was irrelevant to the Republican party which, now fully in the grip of the far-right, vowed to repeal the bill.


With all the competing spin and rhetoric, it’s unsurprising that the U.S. public is confused about the new law. In a CBS News poll, 58% of respondents said they didn’t know how the reform would affect them. 


People with questions might want to look at a short article in Mother Jones, an investigative online magazine, that gives a 10-point summary of the immediate changes contained in new law. The list includes an end to “lifetime limits” on health coverage, which means insurance companies can no longer cut off funding at a specific dollar amount. Children can no longer be excluded from coverage because they are already suffering from a chronic illness. And insurance companies must disclose their administrative costs, which tend to be much higher than those of public insurers such as Health Insurance B.C.


Despite this, insurance inefficiencies and abuses will continue. According to Physicians for a National Health Plan, which advocates for a Canadian-style single-payer approach, 23 million Americans will still be uninsured in nine years from now. On average, only 70 percent of health-care costs will be covered by the commercial insurance policies most people are required to buy. And the measures to end abusive practices of insurance corporations, such as denials of payment, are “riddled with loopholes.”


The political concern among progressives is that the bill solidifies the grip of for-profit health care and increases the power of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Their well-funded lobbyists will continue to oppose an option for a publicly administered health-care plan, which Obama set aside in a vain attempt to bring a few Republicans on board.


The Republicans’ opposition to the bill hinges on their abhorrence of expanded federal powers and higher taxes. States, which support and administer government-funded medical programs, will have to shift more revenue toward health care. In 14 states, conservative attorneys general have already announced plans to challenge the law on Constitutional grounds. California, in political crisis over a $20 billion deficit, is not among them, but officials there expressed profound concern about funding more health care for low-income people.


This is probably bizarre to most Canadians. The debate on universal health care in this country was settled several decades ago. As a federal framework for a national health-care system, the Canada Health Act is a model of simplicity. The provinces are committed to spending large sums on health care, although they also face budget concerns.


One of the biggest complaints about Canadian health care is delays in access to surgical procedures, which U.S. conservatives used as ammunition in their battle against a universal system. Despite the frenzy over U.S. health-care politics, some good news about wait times in Canada just bubbled up.  Waits for heart, hip, knee, and eye surgery, especially in B.C. and Ontario, have shortened. During 2009, every patient in B.C. who needed urgent cardiac bypass surgery got it within the target time frame.


B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon, as pro-free-market as they come, expressed pride in this achievement. Canadians should be proud that a right-wing politician is proud of its publicly funded, not-for-profit, universal health care. Just a few kilometers south of Victoria, that is impossible.

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