Health care vs. health scare

HEALTH CARE VS. HEALTH SCARE…. As the debate over health care reform progresses, it was inevitable we’d see some pretty deceptive advertising from the right. But what they’ve come up with so far tells us quite a bit — some conservatives, left with no credible options, are just making up nonsense.

There’s a project, for example, called “Patients United Now,” organized by the same outfit that sponsored Sam “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher’s anti-EFCA efforts. The group, Americans for Prosperity, has a new television ad featuring a Canadian woman who said she came to the United States to be treated for brain cancer, because in Canada, she would have had to wait six months to see a specialist, a delay that would have killed her.

To hear the woman tell it, Canada’s system is a dystopian nightmare, in which the government forces taxpayers to “wait a year for vital surgeries,” and bureaucrats restrict access to medicine and treatments. She concludes by telling the viewer, “Now Washington wants to bring Canadian-style healthcare to the U.S., but government should never come in between your family and your doctor.” She encourages Americans, “Don’t give up your rights.”

Now, I can’t speak to the woman’s claims about her personal medical experiences; they may very well be true. But as Jonathan Cohn explained, the message of the ad is completely wrong.

For those who’d like a review: Canadian health care has strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include superb primary care, administrative simplicity, and the kind of cradle-to-grave financial security virtually no Americans enjoy now. The weaknesses include some long waits for specialty care — although statistics suggest Canadians are not, on the whole, ending up in worse health than Americans because of them.

The real lie here, though, is in ad’s broader implication: That, by reforming health care, “Washington” (a.k.a. President Obama and his allies) would import “Canadian-style healthcare” and, as a result, deny people life-saving treatment. This is demonstrably false.

Remember, Canada has a single-payer plan — one in which the government insures everybody directly, with virtually no role for private insurance. No politician with serious influence is talking about creating such a plan here (even though, for the record, I think such a plan could work pretty well if designed properly)…. Reformed health care in the U.S. would, in all likelihood, look more like what you find in France, the Netherlands, or Switzerland. These countries don’t have problems with chronic waiting times. In fact, access to some services — particularly primary and emergency care — is easier and quicker than it is in the U.S. But these countries also make sure everybody has insurance coverage — and generous coverage at that.

This is consistent with the larger trend. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is launching a campaign in opposition to reform, and the message is wildly misleading. Rick Scott’s Conservatives for Patients’ Rights have ads up, and they’re no better.

There’s got to be a better way to have this debate.