WASHINGTON — It's the bogeyman of the heated debate about overhauling U.S. health care. Critics charge that revamping the American system will turn the country into Canada, with a nationalized health care system and people dying as they wait for needed services they no longer can get.
New Ipsos-McClatchy online polls find that patients in Canada are indeed much more frustrated by waiting times to see medical specialists than patients in the United States are, and slightly less happy with the waiting times to see their family doctors.
However, they're much more likely to say that they have access to all the health care services they need at costs they can afford, by a margin of 65 to 49 percent.
That split verdict comes as President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are proposing several plans to cover the uninsured and to offer a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies.
While Democrats say that the government insurance wouldn't replace private insurance, critics charge that it will lead inevitably to a Canadian-style plan in which the government takes over health insurance.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, said recently that a government insurance program being considered here "is a slippery slope to a single payer system like Canada or England have, which inevitably leads to putting a bureaucrat between you and your doctor and inevitably leads to delays, it leads to rationing."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week cited the case of a friend who'd "just lost a friend of his in Canada because the government decided he was too old for a certain kind of procedure, and apparently he didn't have the money or the ability to get down to the United States for quality health care. ...I don't think that's the direction the American people want us to go."
The online polls surveyed 1,004 U.S. adults July 9-14 and 1,010 Canadians on June 5-7. They aren't scientific random samples, don't statistically mirror the population and thus have no margin of error. Rather, they resemble large focus groups to help see what people are thinking about a particular issue.
On key questions of care and costs, patients in the two countries clearly see things differently.
Asked about seeing their family doctors, for example, 59 percent of Americans said they could see them quickly when they needed to; 52 percent of Canadians said they could.
The difference in opinions magnified when it came to seeing medical specialists, with 47 percent of Americans saying they can see specialists without long waits. That was nearly twice as high as the 26 percent of Canadians who said they could see specialists without long waits.
Looked at another way, 65 percent of Canadians said they had access to all the health care services they needed at costs they could afford; 49 percent of Americans felt the same way.
That difference probably reflects the costs of health care: Patients pay nothing at doctors' offices in Canada.
It also helps explain the fact that Americans see health care differently based on their incomes, while Canadians see it roughly the same regardless of what they earn.
Just 37 percent of Americans who make less than $50,000 a year say they have access to and can afford all the health care services they need, while 60 percent of those who make more say they can get all they need at costs they can afford.
The gap was much smaller in Canada, where 61 percent of those who earn less than $55,000 and 70 percent of those who make more than that said they had access to all the care they needed at costs they could afford.
In both countries, people with chronic conditions are more likely than those without such illnesses to say that they have access to the care they need.
In the United States, 59 percent of those with chronic conditions are satisfied, while 50 percent of those without chronic conditions are satisfied with their access to care.
In Canada, it's 69 percent of those with chronic conditions and 63 percent of those without.
On some questions, patients in both countries saw things virtually the same way, including access to care on weekends when needed.
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McClatchy Newspapers 2009