‘Sicko’ needs a fact physical

In his new movie “Sicko,” Michael Moore uses a clip of my appearance earlier this year on “The O’Reilly Factor” to introduce a segment on the glories of Canadian health care. Moore adores the Canadian system. I do not.

I am a new American, but I grew up and worked for many years in Canada. And I know the health-care system of my native country much more intimately than Moore. There’s a good reason why my former countrymen with the money to do so either use the services of a booming industry of illegal private clinics, or come to America to take advantage of the health care that Moore denounces.

Government-run health care in Canada inevitably devolves into a dehumanizing system of triage, where the weak and the elderly are hastened to their fates by actuarial calculation. Having fought the Canadian health-care bureaucracy on behalf of my ailing mother just two years ago — she was too old, and too sick, to merit the highest-quality care in the government’s eyes — I can honestly say that Moore’s preferred health-care system is something I wouldn’t wish on him.

In 1999, my uncle was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If he’d lived in America, the miracle drug Rituxan might have saved him. But Rituxan wasn’t approved for use in Canada, and he lost his battle with cancer.

But don’t take my word for it: Even the Toronto Star agrees that Moore’s endorsement of Canadian health care is overwrought and factually challenged. And the Star is considered a left-wing newspaper, even by Canadian standards.

Just last month, the Star’s Peter Howell reported from the Cannes Film Festival that Moore became irate when Canadian reporters challenged his portrayal of their national health-care system. “You Canadians! You used to be so funny!” exclaimed an exasperated Moore. “You gave us all our best comedians. When did you turn so dark?”

Moore further claimed that the infamously long waiting lists in Canada are merely a reflection of the fact that Canadians have a longer life expectancy than Americans, and that the sterling system is swamped by too many Canadians who live too long.

Canada’s media know better. In 2006, the average wait time from seeing a primary-care doctor to getting treatment by a specialist was over four months. Out of a population of 32 million, there are about 3.2 million Canadians trying to get a primary-care doctor. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada ranks 24th out of 28 countries in doctors per thousand people.

Unfortunately, Moore is more concerned with promoting an anti-free-market agenda than getting his facts straight. “The problem,” said Moore recently, “isn’t just (the insurance companies), or the Hospital Corporation and the Frist family — it’s the system! They can’t make a profit unless they deny care! Unless they deny claims! Our laws state very clearly that they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits for the shareholders … the only way they can turn the big profit is to not pay out the money, to not provide the care!”

Profit, according to Moore, has no place in health care — period.

Moore ignores the fact that 85 percent of hospital beds in the United States are in nonprofit hospitals, and almost half of us with private plans get our insurance from nonprofit providers. Moreover, Kaiser Permanente, which Moore demonizes, is also a nonprofit.

What’s really amazing is that even the intended beneficiaries of Moore’s propagandizing don’t support his claims. The Supreme Court of Canada declared in June 2005 that the government health-care monopoly in Quebec is a violation of basic human rights.

Moore put me, fleetingly, into “Sicko” as an example of an American who doesn’t understand the Canadian health-care system. He couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve personally endured the creeping disaster of Canadian health care. Unlike him, I’m willing to tell the truth about it.

(Sally C. Pipes is the president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. She is the author of “Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer.”)

Comments

  1. SEAL

    Whenever this subject comes up, I feel guilty. I am one of the elite recipients of medical care under the American system. While in active service I was given the absolute best of care at no expense to me. Since my retirement I have never had to pay one cent for any type of medical care or prescribed medication. I have never had to deal with the VA since retiring and been able to choose my own doctors. A little over a year and one-half ago I was diagnosed with a form of cancer [multilpe myeloma] that can be treated and controlled for years but not cured. All of my treatment is provided by the third best rated cancer center in the world – Moffitt, Tampa, Florida.

    Occasionally, I overhear conversations of other patients at Moffitt concerned with how they are going to pay for that which their insurance does not cover. Many cancer medications and the unique pain killers associated with cancer are quite expensive. For example, my prescriptions run almost $12,000 a month. Very few insurance programs will cover all those costs as mine does. I witness some of them paying large amounts for prescriptions at the hospital pharmacy. I have to wonder how they manage it. But I also notice the patients there all seem to drive very nice automobiles. There is no one being treated there that does not have insurance except for the few Arabs that fly in on their private jets.

    Of course, a large number of cancer patients are over 65 years of age and covered by Medicare. I have often wondered what would happen to them without this coverage and what about all those under 65 with no insurance? What happens to them? I never see them nor have I bothered to find out. But I do have the question: why should it be any different? The illness is the same. Why should the treatment and care be any different? Why does our government draw the line according to a person’s financial ability to pay for insurance or their age? But there is another determinant.

    Every person responsible for determining our health care system has affordable access to the finest medical coverage available. Everyone employed by the government has excellent health insurance. Most of those employed by the major corporations have good to excellent health insurance. It is those outside this loop, the independent americans, that face the high cost of providing themselves with health insurance. Higher individual costs than those inside the loop. Costs that, in many cases, make it impossible to afford, leaving them uninsured. Obviously, the line is drawn by what you support as well as your financial ability. This is a very distinct discrimination.

    I, with a lifetime of service to my country receive the very best in medical care and those who function independently, raise their families as best they can, work for a living and pay taxes, are not entitled to equal health care. Frankly, I do not see that I, or anyone else, contributed more to this nation than those independent others. This nation was built by those independent people and it is they who paid my wages and now pay for my medical care. There is something very wrong with this system and the distorted reasoning that created it.

  2. Ardie

    The simplest system in the world is to have accident insurance and catastrophic insurance. Doctors are good at emergency–and with a catastrophic illness, it can be a home wrecker. So people need help. The rest should be out-of-pocket. Checkups are a joke–they don’t prevent illness. Doctors kill more people with their bungling than almost any disease.

    People should be a lot more active, eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains–and lay off the meat and the other crap, like junk food and soft drinks which are nothing more than sweetened carbonic acid. Meat causes many diseases. Humans are not designed to process meat efficiently–they are not cats. Eating meat everyday destroys both bones and the linings of the veins. Doctors know this, btw. But they make more money off of you being stupid and unhealthy. Illness–not health–makes the bucks in the medical racket.

  3. Jellicoe

    I am so heartened (and yes, proud) of the penetrating reader comments on this article. Let’s keep it up! They can’t pull the wool over our eyes if we refuse to be sheep!

  4. bduffy

    Sure, Mr. “Pacific Research Institute”; don’t mention the fact that the Canadian health service has been steadily attacked and (drastically) cut by business-friendly governments over the last 30 years. There would be much better wait times if it was funded as it used to be! This is a fundamental lie that critics of the Canadian system use, that it was always like this; but the truth is that the system has been weakened so we will think that privitization is the only answer.

    Nice try, shill.

  5. pondering_it_all

    I bet that the PRI gives it’s CEO a terrific health plan, paying for all her expenses instantly at any medical facility she chooses. So her experience of “The American Healthcare System” has absolutely nothing to do with what the rest of us experience! Every complaint I have read from the rightwing press about Canadian patients having to wait or being denied certain treatments IS an everyday occurance for any American who depends on a normal health insurance policy.

    Another interesting point to ponder: If the author really believed her mother would have received better care in the US, then why on earth did she not get her here for treatment? The PRI bio on Sally Pipes says she has been the CEO since 1991, so she must have had all the financial and political resources necessary. Did she just need her mother to die under the (inferior?) Canadian health care system so she could make some propaganda for her clients?

  6. shonen

    I am fifty nine and to date have had one abdominal aneurysm bypass, then a hernia repair on the original incision, all in less than two years. I had to wait exactly one week for the original surgery after the aneurysm was diagnosed because it took that long for the surgeon to find time on his schedule to fit me in. I was not in crisis or he would have done the job then and there. As for the hernia repair, it was done a month after it was diagnosed, again, because it was not an emergency. Total cost of all this? Let’s see, three days in ICU, a week in a semi-private room for the aneurysm, then five days in a public ward for the hernia….hmmm….I do not know what the cost is, because my shoddy and miserly universal health care coverage paid for the whole thing, both times. All I had to do was go home and get better.
    Do I like my Canadian coverage? You bet I do.

  7. CheckerboardStrangler

    I am married to a 100 per cent service connected disabled Navy veteran. I am married in the eyes of my own morality and in the eyes of my spiritual guide, but I am only legally married as “commonlaw” according to the eyes of the law.

    The reason for this was simple. Back when we first fell in love we were poor as church mice however we realized in short order that getting married with a state approved marriage license would set off a series of events that would result in her son losing his state health benefits. He was born with FIVE MAJOR HEART DEFECTS and he would have been denied the two open heart surgeries that saved his life, all because my seven dollar an hour factory job put us in a bracket where we “made too much money”.

    Now, nine years later I am back doing the job I did for eighteen years in Hollywood and making decent money, my wife has received her service connected disability rating as an MS patient
    who uses a wheelchair and her and the children receive medical benefits from the VA Health Care System, which is run in somewhat similar fashion to Canada’s health care system.

    We’re working to make our union legal now because her and the kids are covered, and our combined income no longer threatens the children’s health coverage. I am now showing signs of adult onset diabetes and I’m losing both my eyesight and the complete use of one of my legs.
    Since we’re not legally married I am not covered by the VA System.

    As a camera operator I find it somewhat important to retain my eyesight and the use of my legs. As a self employed business owner I find it difficult to get any decent health care coverage other than a few HMO’s which have flatly stated that my condition would have to worsen significantly before their benefits, which do not activate for at least a year, kick in.

    It’s nice to know that under America’s “Christian Family Values” my son would have died and that our current “free market system” would ask me to give up my career of over twenty years before I can take steps to maintain my health.

    Of course it might be difficult for me to pay for the health care premiums if I can no longer do my job but hey, that’s America!

    I guess Pipes doesn’t understand the concept of preventive health care and could care less about the ever widening chasm that contains a few million people who have “fallen through the cracks”.

    Here’s my crack:
    Stick your critique of Canada’s health care system up yours, Sally.