Bernie Sanders brings Canadian doctors into U.S. health-care debate

TheStar.com – News/GTA – Sanders enlisted several Canadian physicians for a social media campaign touting single-payer health care in the U.S.
Oct. 27, 2017.   By

Over a month ago, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders emailed a group of Canadian doctors with questions about Canada’s health-care system. He wanted to know what it was like to be a doctor that didn’t ask their patients for money at the end of an appointment. He wanted to know what it was like for a patient to not worry about insurance.

Sanders team collected this group and made videos of doctors answering these questions for a social media campaign advocating for a single-payer health-care system in the U.S., similar to Canada’s. The online conversation has made Dr. Danyaal Raza, a Toronto-based family doctor at St. Michael’s College, an internet sensation; 1.8 million people on Facebook have watched his comments.

Raza, 34, a graduate of both University of Toronto and Harvard, has seen the differences between the two country’s systems first-hand. If you break your leg in the U.S., he explains, you can’t go to the hospital nearest to you, because it might not be part of your insurance company’s network.

“As a Canadian that was so shocking, because if I fall off my bike, if I break my leg, it doesn’t matter if I’m in downtown Toronto, if I’m in Scarborough,” he said. “I would go to the closest hospital and my OHIP card would get me treatment there.”

Cab drivers in Canada, for instance, do not have supplementary health insurance. They don’t have access to a lot of extended benefits such as pensions. They don’t have a stable, steady income.

“But that doesn’t mean they can’t come to see me to get their medical checkups,” said Raza. “It doesn’t mean they can’t get their X-rays, their blood tests.

“It’s not about having insurance or not having insurance,” said Raza. “It’s about the level of complexity that Americans have to deal with that, frankly, would be a shock to so many of us here.”

 

Raza is the chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare (CDM) — an organization that serves as a voice for Canadian doctors. Founded in 2006, the organization advocates for improvements to the country’s medical system; right now, the focus is universal drug coverage.

The organization has become a strong partner in Sanders campaign; its founder, Danielle Martin, even appeared in front of a Senate discussion about the universal publicly funded health care Sanders is fighting for.

Dr. Melanie Bechard, a pediatric resident and CDM board member who also made a video for Sanders, is happy to share her experiences as a Canadian physician if it can help both countries have a meaningful discussion about best health-care practices.

A short while ago, a refugee family came to see Dr. Bechard at a pediatric outreach clinic. Back home, they had tried, repeatedly, to get their very sick child medical attention. Their child was “medically complex,” she says, and required a very long treatment.

For privacy reasons Bechard can’t share this family’s identity, or the nature of the child’s illness. What she can share is how the family broke down in tears when she conveyed they didn’t need to pay thousands of dollars for a treatment that required numerous specialists. They were living at a shelter.

“I was so grateful in that moment to be able to say that we could provide that care, that we could help this child,” said Bechard.

Both Raza and Bechard are surprised at how viral their videos on Canadian health care have become. When their parents stumbled across them, or when nurses and hospital janitorial staff came up to talk to them — it’s a small level of notoriety that makes them hopeful.

But, both Bechard and Raza are quick to recognize that Canada’s health-care system is not perfect.

“There are certainly things we should celebrate,” said Raza, “But, at the same time we need to recognize we have gaps.” Both doctors list long wait times, financial barriers to prescription drugs, no dental coverage and limited health care access for marginalized population, including Indigenous and rural communities, as issues.

Raza hopes Sanders is successful in implementing a strong single-payer system in the U.S., so Canadians can start looking inwards. In the meantime, he hopes the conversation keeps going.

“Some days, we feel disempowered or ineffectual,” said Bechard. “It’s nice to have had a tiny, tiny impact.”

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/10/27/bernie-sanders-brings-canadian-doctors-into-us-health-care-debate.html

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