Remember, almost 30 years ago in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was (unsuccessfully) running for re-election, and his campaign scrounged around for ideas that might upset the juggernaut that was Bill Clinton until it hit for some reason on pumping up the notion that Canadian health care was a commie disaster and that if we elected the Dem Americans would never have knee surgery again?
A deep-voiced narrator in one TV ad intoned “Now Washington wants to bring Canadian-style health care to the U.S. But government should never …”
And then you heard Bush himself say: “And if you think socialized medicine is a good idea, ask a Canadian for a second opinion.”
Canadian immigrant Amanda Aronczyk reported on NPR last week that she had just moved to the United States when that campaign was underway and that she couldn’t believe her ears.
People “would say the strangest things to me about Canadian health care — that Canadians wait forever, that doctors don’t want to work there and, weirdly specifically, that Canadians get left on gurneys in the hallways of hospitals to die. These rumors were everywhere.”
None of that was true. At all. It was entirely made up. “No one asked me,” Aronczyk said. “But if they had, I would have told them that none of this matched my experience living in Canada. So I wondered, where are people getting these stories from? And then, this fall, I found the answer — from a man who worked in PR for health insurance companies for over 20 years named Wendell Potter.”
She tracked Potter down and he admitted it was all a con: “Consistently, Americans view single-payer systems favorably. And that’s always scared health insurance company executives. … I’m at fault here. The work I’m doing now is to make amends for all of the work that I did to perpetuate those myths about the Canadian system.”
He admits to smearing the entire system by finding a few disgruntled Canadians, using their anecdotes, and cherry-picking the statistics. Those long waits? They were all for elective surgeries. Potter: “You want to make people believe that because Canadians might wait several weeks or a few months to get a knee replacement, that’s indicative of everything in Canada.”
It isn’t. Canadians, like the Brits — very much including Conservatives — love their health care system. It’s ours they think is nuts. When Canadians in 2004 had a TV competition to pick the greatest Canadian of all time, Nathan Whitlock reports in the New York Review of Books, they considered Wayne Gretzky, Alexander Graham Bell and Pierre Trudeau. But they picked Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who in the 1940s and ‘50s created single-payer universal health coverage in his province, which later spread to the whole country.
Contrary to what PR man Potter spread around, a poll of Canadians a few years ago found that 94 percent of them consider Canada’s health-care system, informally known as medicare, “an important source of collective pride.”
They tell a joke up there, Whitlock reports, about a TV show called “Breaking Bad (Canada)” in which Walter White “has no need to cook meth in order to pay his medical bills, because they are covered by medicare. ‘You have cancer,’ a doctor tells White. ‘Treatment starts next week.’ End of story.”
I write this in the context of President-elect Joe Biden’s goal to gently massage Obamacare and lower the age of our formal Medicare from 65 to 60. Reasonable, modest goals.
Oh, how lovely to look forward to a reasonable and modest presidency.
Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. firstname.lastname@example.org.