Moore is less for healthcare reform
Peter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner. The views expressed are his own.
In SiCKO, Michael Moore portrayed the British National Health Service and the Canadian health system as particular exemplars of excellence. He backed it up with a lot of statistics, but statistics, as the saying goes, are like a bathing suit. What they show you is interesting, but what they conceal is essential.
And what SiCKO concealed was that systems such as those in the United Kingdom and Canada are cost-based rather than patient-centric models. Facts, no matter how inconvenient to one’s argument, must not be ignored.
Citizens of countries with government-run health care systems experience long wait times, a lack of access to certain treatments and, in many instances, substandard medical care. For example:
• The five-year survival rate for early diagnosed breast cancer patients in England is just 78 percent, compared to 98 percent in the U.S.
• A typical Canadian seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment had to wait 18.3 weeks in 2007, an all-time high, according to The Fraser Institute.
• The average wait time for bypass surgery in New York is 17 days compared to 72 days in the Netherlands and 59 days in Sweden.
• More than half of Canadian adults (56 percent) sought routine or ongoing care in 2005. Of these, one in six said they have trouble getting routine care.
• Eighty-five percent of doctors in Canada agree private insurance for health services already covered under Medicare would result in shorter wait times.
• Approximately 875,000 Canadians are on waiting lists for medical treatment.
“Congress has an important role to play in healthcare reform” said United States Representative John Shadegg, (R-Arizona), who has introduced healthcare legislation in support of free-market competition. “We can help patient in this country, not by setting up a massive new government bureaucracy, but by empowering individuals to make the best choices for themselves and their families.”
If we’re going to look to other healthcare models for solutions, we must uncover and study their problems. Health care is too important to allow reform by sound bite. “Drugs from Canada” is as much a false promise as “free” healthcare.
Last autumn, my organization the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest interviewed people on the streets of New York City and asked them if they’d prefer “government” healthcare or “universal” healthcare. They overwhelmingly chose “universal” healthcare. But when we asked them to explain the difference between the two, they generally just shrugged their shoulders.
And when we asked them how much more in taxes they’d be willing to pay to support universal healthcare, they shook their heads and said, “No, we want it to be free, like in Europe and Canada.” Such are the fallacies that political rhetoric hath wrought.
Equally as prevalent is the notion of “free” or “low cost” drugs “like in Canada and Europe.” And here too we need to be honest and examine the other side of the coin — that of cost-savings for the payer (often in the guise of healthcare technology assessment programs such as Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) versus care denied for the patient. What is overlooked is that price controls equals choice controls.
Our national conversation about health care has to go beyond vague concepts of reform and convenient political rhetoric. We must all be part of the solution and suspicious about false choices.