Canadian doctor shows off her health card at Bernie Sanders' Medicare bill launch
A Toronto doctor who gained international attention for vigorously defending Canadian health care before a U.S. Senate committee in 2014 has thrown her support behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’ longshot bid for a similar system in the U.S.
Dr. Danielle Martin, a physician at the Women’s College Hospital and associate professor at the University of Toronto, brandished her green Ontario health card before the crowd at Sanders’ event Wednesday to explain that, when she was in hospital to give birth to her daughter, no one asked her about money.
“I just handed over this card, my Canadian health care card to my doctor, and that was it,” Martin said.
“I wish that all of my American neighbours could experience the same simplicity in their moments of need.”
Sanders invited Martin and several American doctors and health-care professionals to Washington to help him pitch legislation called Medicare for All, which would scrap out-of-pocket expenses and give coverage to Americans with a government-issued ID card.
The bill has been backed by at least four top Democrats rumoured to be considering runs in the 2020 election, including Kamala Harris of California, Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren, New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Critics say that Sanders has released scant details on how he plans to pay for the system. He said Tuesday that he would pay for the system in a “progressive way.”
Regardless, the bill is destined to die before the Republican-controlled Congress. But it’s seen as a symbolic step for Sanders and like-minded members of the Democratic Party.
Canada has had universal health care since 1968. Martin said she’s proud of the system, and she’s hardly alone.
“In public polls, 94 per cent of Canadians say that our health-care system is a source of personal and collective pride – even more than ice hockey,” she said, earning laughs from the crowd.
“Single-payer health care is a symbol to us of what it truly means to be Canadian: that we take care of each other.”
The system also makes financial sense, Martin said, with Canada paying less per capita for health care than Americans. Canadians also have longer life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates and fewer preventable deaths than their neighbours to the south.
“Most importantly, when my patients are sick, I do not need to ask if they have insurance or if they can afford to pay for my services,” she said.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Martin said that when her grandparents moved to Canada in the 1950s, universal health care didn’t yet exist. When her grandfather suffered his first heart attack in his early 40s, her family was “essentially bankrupted by medical bills.”
It’s a reality that many Americans still face today. But Martin said that idea is “unimaginable” for many Canadians.
“My generation of Canadians does not remember what it was like to worry about paying a doctor or a hospital bill,” she said.
Sanders himself called Canada’s health-care system “popular” and said Americans would be well served to consider a similar set-up.
“I think it is high time that we started taking a look at what countries around the world were doing in providing quality care to all of their people in a far more cost effective way than we do.”
The bill would expand upon a health insurance program for elderly Americans to cover everyone living in the U.S. The system, which would be unrolled over the course of four years, would mean that individuals and businesses would no longer pay premiums to insurers.
Sanders’ proposal would also provide coverage for 28 million Americans who still don’t have insurance.
With files from The Associated Press