Canadian Medicare and #welovethenhs

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health care, of all the services available, is almost certainly the most important one many of us will ever make use of. Without adequate health, our performance degrades at work, our enjoyment of life decreases and some of our routine responsibilities become uphill struggles. And yet, in some nations not everyone has affordable access to it.

In Canada, we have tax-funded, universally accessible health care under the label Medicare. Tommy Douglas, a former premier of Saskatchewan, fought hard with the Federal government of his time to develop Medicare. For his efforts Canadians voted him the Greatest Canadian in 2004 through a CBC-run television series.

Another prominent Canadian involved with supporting the creation of a system of socialized medicine was Norman Bethune. He went to China during the Japanese invasion in 1938 and acted as a battlefield surgeon, bringing anti-septic practices to Chinese medicine, a system of training doctors and nurses, and treated both Chinese and Japanese casualties.

As someone with an occasionally debilitating illness, I would be potentially homeless without Medicare. When I had to leave my job to recover from one severe bout, and left without any sort of income, I would have been bankrupt if I had had to pay for my medical treatment. It was only through Medicare, and Quebec’s tax-funded prescription drug insurance, that I was able to manage the recovery I did. In subsequent bouts, where I did have an income, it still came to my aid to keep me from losing my already reduced income.

With my mother currently battling cancer, I can only imagine the costs to our family if Medicare were not around. Her treatments happen regularly, her initial diagnosis took place in a timely fashion, and I’m satisfied that the oncologist and nurses are doing their best for her.

I think it’s clear that I am a big proponent of Medicare. There are other Canadians, however, who oppose it and believe it should be reduced in scope and replaced with private options. Chief among them is the Fraser Institute, who recently released an article pointing out weaknesses in Medicare.

While there are indeed weaknesses in Medicare, one has to consider the source of this griping. The Fraser Institute is a “free-”market think-tank, that is generally against government spending in favour of private options. That’s certainly a view point that has some, if dubious, merit. Generally those advocating such policies have the money to fund or use more expensive private alternatives to currently public services. In fact, the Fraser Institute’s contributors include a long list of wealthy individuals looking to dismantle Canada’s public services. Hardly freedom for those without the means to exploit the “free-”market.

So what does “free-”market economics bring us? The recent economic crisis, for one. It allows those with means to expand their portfolios, owing to the fact that no one is looking over their shoulders. It entails a transfer of wealth from those willing to spend theirs to those who tend to fund their own interests through organizations like the Fraser Institute and those corporate bodies that fund such organizations.

Generally, people living in countries with socialized medicine are quite attached to that service, and are willing to defend it vehemently. Graham Linehan, creator of the hit show IT Crowd, recently started a campaign on Twitter to allow fellow residents of the UK to speak out about how much they love the British, tax-funded health care system. By using the tag #welovethenhs, British Twitter members can post their views for the world to see. To give an example of its popularity, after loading the page for the tag I waited a couple of seconds. In that time, the tweets using the tag increased in number by 22. Another few seconds and a further 31 tweets appeared.

When interviewed by Channel 4 about the Twitter campaign, Graham Linehan spoke out against the current movement in the United States opposing socialized medicine. His aim is to “provide ammunition for those people who are fighting back against the scare stories in America.”

In fact, some Brits who have been featured in such scare tactics have spoken out against their stories being used out of context. They were asked to comment on their health-care experiences, being told it was for a documentary. The footage was then used in scare ads funded by opponents of President Obama’s health-care plan. While these women had some rough experiences with the NHS in the UK, both later said that they are fully supportive of their country’s socialized medicine. One felt as if she had had her naivety tested by this experience with American political media.

When I graduated from my government-subsidised university program I was quite well paid for a recent graduate. While I was contributing quite a bit to the government in the form of taxes, and I think they could have been lower by reducing government waste, this didn’t bother me all that much. Why? I want others to have the chance to benefit from affordable post-secondary education. I want others who are less fortunate than I was not to have to worry about whether they can afford health care if they get sick. Many university graduates do not get hired, and even those that do are often not paid well, in jobs that do not do their degrees justice. By reducing their burden, I free up their hard earned money to possibly find its way back to me in the form of software development contracts, or by supporting local businesses so that they can bring me goods and services at a lower cost.


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