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The Tea Party, Canada and Health Care


Let me preface this column by saying that I don’t think all conservatives and right-wingers are stupid. In fact I have some right-leaning friends of a libertarian bent who are really smart, and a lot of fun to argue with. They may have an unquestioning faith, bordering on religious zealotry, in the wonders of the “market,” but like Jesuit-trained Catholics defending the existence of God, debating that faith with them can be entertaining and even challenging.

Having said that, I have to say that the so called “rock-ribbed” conservative crowd — let’s change that to “rock-headed” — that serves as the foot-soldiers for the Koch-brothers-funded Tea Party “movement” are really low-wattage.

Back in 2008-2010, their incredibly inane rallying cry was: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

Never mind that the Medicare these bozos were trying to protect is a government program.

Now, after the latest Supreme Court decision, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four alleged “liberal” members of the court to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), the new cry from these dopes is that they want to move to Canada “because the US is too socialist.”

I kid you not!

Wally Weldon (@WallyWeldon), is a classic of the genre. In a Twitter, he declares, “I’m moving to Canada, the  US is entirely too socialist.”

Van Summers (@VanSummers) cheeps back, “Screw this commie country, I’m moving to Canada.”

Problem: Canada has what might best be described as socialized health care. Way back in 1947, Tommy Douglas, a social-democratic provincial leader of the prairie province of Saskatchewan, introduced the first public hospital insurance program in Canada. That plan was expanded nationwide in 1957 in the face of militant opposition from the Canadian Medical Association. In 1962, Saskatchewan broadened the program to cover all medical costs, making health care in that province fully funded for all by the government. A conservative Canadian national government expanded the program in Saskatchewan nationwide in 1966. Doctors fees were set buy the provinces, but doctors responded by adding on private charges called “extra billing.”  That practice was banned in 1984, giving Canada the basic system it has to this day.  It’s quality health care at half the cost in terms of share of GDP (10%) that it is in the US (20%)

Canada’s Medicare-for-all program is not socialist in the way that the British National Health program is socialist–with UK hospitals owned by the government and UK doctors receiving state salaries. Doctors in Canada still are private entrepreneurs, but their fees for service are set by the provincial governments. Hospitals can also be private, but patients only pay a nominal charge for treatment in them. Their costs and their reimbursements are negotiated by governments.

Do these conservatives who want to flee to Canada to escape “socialist” Obamacare even know any of this?

It’s hard to believe they wouldn’t. Fox TV, the main “news”  source for the ignorant and willfully ignorant, has run plenty of scare stories about a non-existent “wave” of Canadians allegedly pouring across the border to the good-ol’ capitalist USA to get medical treatment they are allegedly denied in Canada. On investigation, most of these stories fall apart very quickly. But at least the viewers ought to get the picture that Canadians have socialized medical care.

Obamacare isn’t remotely socialist, meanwhile. Its crucial flaw, indeed, is precisely that it leaves the whole funding of American medical care in the hands of the private insurance industry (it caters shamelessly to most of the industries in the US medical-industrial complex, but especially to the insurance industry). Canadians, meanwhile, effectively did away with private health insurance in their country when they introduced their Medicare program for all Canadians.

Meanwhile, these clowns who want to flee to Canada may be in for a rude surprise if they do more than yack on Twitter and actually try to flee Obamacare. Canada doesn’t provide its free medical care to outsiders, and it’s very hard on would-be immigrants who might want to get a free ride on their health care system. If you go to Canada and get sick or injured, you will get treated, but you’ll also get a hefty bill if you’re not Canadian. You should hope you have some kind of private US medical insurance to handle the bill or it could really set you back.

I had some friends in their late 50s who tried to immigrate to Canada from Alaska a few years ago. They both had lifetime insurance from the woman’s former job as a state worker in Alaska, but even so, they were denied landed immigrant status in Canada, and were told it was because the immigration authorities feared they would end up using (abusing) Canada’s health care system anyhow.

No surprise that, but it is a delicious case of “turnabout is fair play”  (not for my two friends, who knew all about Canada’s health system and, with their lifetime retirement insurance plan, had no need or desire to freeload off it.) Conservatives in the US are always railing that Mexicans are coming across the border illegally to the US to get free Medicaid in this country.  Now they want to go further north across the next border to freeload for health care themselves.

But it’s not going to work.

They’d do better to do a little research about Canada’s system of government-funded health care, and then, once they understand it, join the fight to get the US Medicare program they love so much, “socialist” as it may be, expanded to cover every American they way it works in Canada.

I’m not holding my breath for a new Tea Party cry of “Get the government to broaden its hands to extend my Medicare to cover my kids, my grandkids amd my neighbors!”

Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia. 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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