City Journal Magazine | David Gratzer | Summer, 2007
Socialized medicine has meant rationed care and lack of innovation. Small wonder Canadians are looking to the market.
Mountain-bike enthusiast Suzanne Aucoin had to fight more than her Stage IV colon cancer. Her doctor suggested Erbitux—a proven cancer drug that targets cancer cells exclusively, unlike conventional chemotherapies that more crudely kill all fast-growing cells in the body—and Aucoin went to a clinic to begin treatment. But if Erbitux offered hope, Aucoin’s insurance didn’t: she received one inscrutable form letter after another, rejecting her claim for reimbursement. Yet another example of the callous hand of managed care, depriving someone of needed medical help, right? Guess again. Erbitux is standard treatment, covered by insurance companies—in the United States. Aucoin lives in Ontario, Canada.
When Aucoin appealed to an official ombudsman, the Ontario government claimed that her treatment was unproven and that she had gone to an unaccredited clinic. But the FDA in the U.S. had approved Erbitux, and her clinic was a cancer center affiliated with a prominent Catholic hospital in Buffalo. This January, the ombudsman ruled in Aucoin’s favor, awarding her the cost of treatment. She represents a dramatic new trend in Canadian health-care advocacy: finding the treatment you need in another country, and then fighting Canadian bureaucrats (and often suing) to get them to pick up the tab.
But if Canadians are looking to the United States for the care they need, Americans, ironically, are increasingly looking north for a viable health-care model. There’s no question that American health care, a mixture of private insurance and public programs, is a mess. Over the last five years, health-insurance premiums have more than doubled, leaving firms like General Motors on the brink of bankruptcy. Expensive health care has also hit workers in the pocketbook: it’s one of the reasons that median family income fell between 2000 and 2005 (despite a rise in overall labor costs). Health spending has surged past 16 percent of GDP. The number of uninsured Americans has risen, and even the insured seem dissatisfied. So it’s not surprising that some Americans think that solving the nation’s health-care woes may require adopting a Canadian-style single-payer system, in which the government finances and provides the care. Canadians, the seductive single-payer tune goes, not only spend less on health care; their health outcomes are better, too—life expectancy is longer, infant mortality lower.
Thus, Paul Krugman in the New York Times: “Does this mean that the American way is wrong, and that we should switch to a Canadian-style single-payer system? Well, yes.” Politicians like Hillary Clinton are on board; Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko celebrates the virtues of Canada’s socialized health care; the National Coalition on Health Care, which includes big businesses like AT&T, recently endorsed a scheme to centralize major health decisions to a government committee; and big unions are questioning the tenets of employer-sponsored health insurance. Some are tempted. Not me.
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