Martin scores big on frustration of Canadians waiting to see our health system defended in the U.S.

It must have truly hurt The National Post to admit that Canadian doctor Danielle Martin “held her own” before a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month on comparative health systems.

Albeit the NP’s Tristan Hopper did say she did so “snidely,” which is a bit much for anyone who actually viewed the video and saw the professional demeanor Martin maintained throughout the questioning.

Other media were less reserved, calling Dr. Martin a hero for speaking truth to power in Washington or that she gave Washington “a lesson on Canadian health care.” Even the National Post’s headline writer called it a “smack down.” At Salon they went as far as saying Martin had made anti-Obamacare senator Richard Burr appear a “buffoon.”

Martin is best known to us as the former Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, so her ability to speak knowledgeably about Canada’s health system came as no surprise.

While Martin didn’t try and gloss over the problems, she was forthright in asserting the single-payer model of health care was not to blame.

When Republican Senator Burr asked how many Canadians die on waiting lists each year, Martin snapped back that she didn’t know, “but I know there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.”

When Burr asked her about the choice of former Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams to go to Florida for heart surgery, Martin surprised the Senator: “It’s actually interesting, because in fact the people who are pioneers of that particular surgery are in Toronto, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, just down the street from where I work.”

“Sometimes people have a perception, and I believe this is fuelled in part by media discourse, that going where you pay more for something that that necessarily makes it better. But that’s not borne out by the evidence on outcomes from that cardiac surgery or any other,” she said.

Grilled about Canadian wait times, Martin pointed to Australia as a lesson in how two-tier medicine actually lengthened waits rather than solve them.

While the exchange was lively, it was not that unusual for the theatre that passes for politics in the U.S. For Canadians it was a moment many of us had been waiting for.

Martin perceptively told Global News: “We see our health care system get misrepresented and trashed in the American media as part of their debate quite a lot and that’s a source of real frustration for Canadians.”

That may be the real reason why her appearance had such resonance on both sides of the border. It also raises the question why it is our own government has been so reluctant to defend Canada’s health care in the U.S. when poll after poll shows not only overwhelming support for the single-payer system, but that many Canadians consider it part of their identity. That’s pretty fertile ground for any politician to ignore.

Independent Senator Bernard Sanders told his own committee that despite following American politics even closer than most of their own citizens do, Canadians have no desire to adopt American-style health care.

Yet we all remember candidate Sarah Palin’s characterization of Canada’s “death panels.”

At the same Senate hearing Canadian ex-pat Sally Pipes repeatedly brought up the 42,000 Canadians that purchase services in the U.S. each year as a failure of our single-payer system. Pipes now works for the extreme right-wing Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco — the same organization the Ontario PC’s frequently quote to support their now abandoned right-to-work policy.

“Sometimes it’s not about the amount of resources you have,” said Martin in reply, “but rather about how you organize people in order to use your queues most effectively.”

Martin said wait times should be addressed in a way that benefits everyone, not just those who can afford to pay.

Martin will be appearing on another panel – this one hosted by the Medical Reform Group – on Wednesday, April 9 at 7 pm at the OPSEU Membership Centre, 31 Wellesley Street East, Toronto. The panel will be looking at the government’s decision to have independent health facilities bid against hospitals for funding to deliver services ranging from endoscopies to cataract surgery.

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