Originally published at Digital Journal

What does the president of the Canadian Medical Association think about the United States’ rejection of ‘socialized medicine?’

Recently, this Digital Journalist interviewed CMA President Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, along with health ministers and health leaders from around the world, and found nearly all of them were perplexed by America’s continuing disdain for all things ‘socialist,’ even among those who rely upon government-run health care systems like Medicare.

“Americans are worried about socialized medicine, but what do you think Social Security and Medicaid are,” asked Francescutti, a native of Montréal who began his career as an emergency medical technician in the Canadian Arctic. “I always find it so funny when Americans say, ‘We don’t want socialized medicine,’ but as soon as they turn 65, they’re asking, ‘Where’s my Medicare?’

I asked Dr. Francescutti, who completed his residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA before joining the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta as an emergency and preventive medicine physician, to clear up some misconceptions about Canadian health care perpetuated by US special interest groups keen on preserving a for-profit health care system that delivers some of the worst results, even while spending far more per capita than any other most-developed nation.

Digital Journal: Do you believe health care is a human right?

Dr. Francescutti: I believe everyone should have the opportunity to good health. Health care is part of that equation. I don’t think people should be denied access to care based on the size of their wallet. It’s just not the right thing to do. For folks that think, ‘These people just need to pull up their socks,’ well, those are usually the people who are fairly well-to-do. And those people need to better understand the consequences of poverty and its impact on health. It’s totally unfair that people who can’t afford health care should be denied health care.

DJ: We here in the States are bombarded with horror stories about Canadian health care. ‘Death panels.’Rationed care. Dangerously long waits to see doctors. Meanwhile, the US ranks 51st in global life expectancy, it’s health care is ranked 37th by the World Health Organization, and one in six Americans still lacks health coverage. What do you make of all this?

LHF: Any patient at any time can switch physicians. There are no ‘death panels.’ I don’t know where that came from. I think it’s a Tea Party slander. Do we have slightly longer waits than Americans? Yes we do. But when you take a look at the indicators, we’re faring better than you in just about every category, and you’re spending twice as much money as we’re spending.What people should do at the end of the day is not exaggerate. If you’re an American, come up here, and if you’re involved in a terrible crash, we’ll take care of you. Nobody gets turned away here.

DJ: What about abuse? Americans often hear stories about how people in countries with robust public health care systems abuse those systems, or that expanding access to health care somehow breeds laziness. Is this true?

LHF: There’s no abuse. [US] critics claim there’s so much abuse because everyone just goes running to the doctor every time they have a problem. That’s just not the case. Working in emergency, I’d say less than a handful of patients a day don’t have to be there.

DJ: What’s the best aspect of Canadian health care?

LHF: Nobody goes bankrupt if they have a heart attack. God forbid you have a heart attack in the United States and you don’t have coverage. Here, it’s a kinder, gentler way of taking care of the health needs of our population.

DJ: The worst aspect?

LHF: If there is a worst one, perhaps it’s the fact that the wait times may be a little longer in some cases. But that’s definitely not the case with acute illness. If you have a heart attack today, you would get [care] immediately… If you need a hip replacement, it may take a little longer… You’d still get it, but at the end of the day, you would have to pay for it.

DJ: In the US, the notion of a Canadian-style health care system is anathema to conservative politicians and pundits. In Canada, even Conservatives support your public health care system, and to suggest dismantling it would probably mean political suicide. What does universal health care mean to Canadians, and would you ever dream of returning to for-profit health care in Canada?

LHF: Our health care is ingrained in us like maple syrup or hockey. It’s part of being Canadian. It’s in our fabric. It’s in our DNA. No one would dare touch it. People are questioning, ‘Can we make it more efficient?’ Yes, there’s no doubt about that. ‘Can we improve our outcomes?’ Yes, we’re working very hard on doing that as well. But going for-profit? I don’t think that’s a good idea. All we have to do is look south of the border and see that it’ll cost us a heck of a lot more money and we’ll get even worse results, so why would we want to emulate what our neighbors to the south are doing?

DJ: What’s your message to people in the United States who oppose government-run, or government-funded health care?

LHF: You have to understand what health is. The health care system may contribute 25 percent of your health. The things that make you healthy have nothing to do with the health care system. You’ve already experimented with Medicare and Medicaid, which have worked for certain populations. Now what you have to do is experiment and make sure you have cost control measures and accountability measures built in. Intermountain and Kaiser Permanente are excellent examples of how you can do it. If you take those as examples and roll those out across the country, your patients and your population would see better care at less cost with better outcomes.

Help people live healthier. If you’re a single mom or a senior on a fixed income and the only thing you can afford is junk food, you’ll eat junk food.