Canadian Union Writes Obama & Congress Defending Canada’s Healthcare

The President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada’s largest unions, has written President Barack Obama and all members of the U.S. Congress asking them to look past the “malicious misrepresentations and scare tactics” in the current debate over American health care reform and see the true value of Canada’s single-payer health system.

James Clancy, NUPGE President, said he felt obligated to write to the U.S. legislators after conservative Prime Minister Harper and Health Minister Aglukkaq refused to step in and counter the anti-Canadian propaganda being spread by private health care interests battling health care reform in the United States.

Clancy said a multi-million-dollar tidal wave of special-interest propaganda is trying desperately to obscure the fact that Canada’s single-payer health care system has been “a triumph of values and
economics” for more than 40 years.

Clancy wrote that his country’s health outcomes, on almost every critical measure, are among the best in the world, and Medicare covers all Canadians at substantially less cost than U.S. citizens pay for a system that leaves millions without coverage.

“It’s totally unthinkable to Canadians to experience bankruptcy due to medical bills, as do over one million Americans every year. Unlike in the U.S., not a single Canadian who is unemployed has lost the ability to access health care during the current economic recession.”

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labor organizations with over 340,000 members.

Full Text of Letter:

Barack H. Obama, President of the United States
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
All members of the U.S. House of Representatives
All members of the U.S. Senate

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you on behalf of the 340,000 members of the National Union of Public and General Employees (Canada) about the scurrilous misrepresentations of Canada and our single-payer health system in the debate over the future of health care in the United States.

We applaud you for reopening the national discussion of health care reform in the U.S. There are various policy proposals on the table and you’ll have important decisions to make in the months ahead. As legislators, it’s critical that you use the best available evidence to inform your decisions.

Unfortunately, rather than a true debate about its merits, Canada’s single-payer system, and by extension Canada’s reputation, has been the victim of a multi-million dollar tidal wave of special-interest propaganda and scare tactics. You need to know that an objective examination of the evidence reveals that Canada’s single-payer health system is the triumph of values and economics.

Our system speaks volumes about the character of our nation. It provides all Canadians with equal access to care on the basis of need, not wealth or privilege or status. Previous generations understood that sickness doesn’t discriminate and they made the collective moral decision that
health care shouldn’t discriminate either. It was a courageous initiative by visionary men and women that changed us as a nation and cemented our role as one of the world’s compassionate societies. We will always defend the proud legacy we have inherited from previous generations of Canadians.

Indeed, Canadians today still strongly support the core values on which our system is premised – equality, compassion and solidarity. In fact, our Medicare system is now tied to our understanding of citizenship. More than just a social program, Medicare to us represents a birthright and an identifying mark of “Canadian-ness”. It is, we believe, the clearest reflection of who we are and what we value.

But more than that, our single-payer system is, quite simply, a good and sensible idea that serves Canadians extremely well. The overheated rhetoric and outright falsehoods that you’ve heard about the quality and viability of Canada’s system simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

When it comes to health outcomes, on almost every critical measure, whether it is life expectancy rates, infant mortality rates, or potential years of lost life, Canada rates much better than the U.S. and we’re among the best in the world. Notwithstanding the “real life” stories you’ve heard in TV ads launched by the group Patients United Now, a very strong majority of Canadians who use the system are highly satisfied with the quality and standard of care they receive.

In terms of controlling costs, health spending in Canada is on par with most countries in the Western world and it’s substantially lower than in the U.S. And yet we devote a smaller portion of Gross Domestic Product to health care today than we did over a decade ago. It’s totally unthinkable to Canadians to experience bankruptcy due to medical bills, as do over one million Americans every year. Unlike in the U.S., not a single Canadian who is unemployed has lost the ability to access health care during the current economic recession.

In addition, our single-payer system provides both small and large businesses in Canada with a clear competitive advantage. Employers don’t have to provide basic health care for their workers – our single-payer system does that. Our businesses also enjoy the benefits of a healthier and more productive workforce thanks to our universal system. Unlike in the U.S. where basic health care is a major source of labour relations strife, it’s hardly an issue at the bargaining table in Canada. We also
enjoy greater labour mobility because workers who don’t have to worry about losing health benefits are more willing and able to switch jobs and move to where the work is.

Finally, what you’re being told about government-run health care with patients suffering and dying on wait lists is nothing but lies. No need for emergency or urgent care is ever neglected in Canada. If your doctor says you need the care urgently, you get it, period. Moreover, Statistics Canada reports that the median wait time for elective surgery is four weeks and the median wait time for diagnostic imaging like MRIs is three weeks. And contrary to popular myth, we’re free to choose whatever doctor
we want. And all decisions about care and treatment are left to patients and their doctors – there’s no interference by the government or private insurance companies.

An objective review of the evidence shows that Canada’s single-payer system has consistently delivered affordable, timely, accessible, comprehensive and high-quality care to the overwhelming majority of Canadians on the basis of need, not wealth. It has also contributed to our international competitiveness and the productivity of our workforce.

Times of great need, we are told, are the times when true leaders emerge and display the ability to separate fact from fiction and the courage to set aside political agendas for the sake of the common good. The challenge facing health care reform in the U.S. demands that kind of ability and courage from each of you.

I would be pleased to speak or meet with you at anytime, or if you’re interested we could arrange a “study mission” to Canada, to ensure you have an accurate picture of the benefits and popularity of Canada’s most cherished social program. Please do not hesitate to contact my office.

James Clancy
National President

Distributed by:
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care–HR 676


  1. John Barker on July 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Thank You NUPGE. Thank all Canadians who comment on various blogs to set the record straight. Invariably, Candians I have spoken to ditto your comments and would not trade their single payer system for the U.S. healthcare system for people under 65 under any circumstance. Again, Thank You NUPGE.

  2. Anthony on July 30, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Oh Canada! Thanks a million for all you do on the various blogs around the web and defend your system from the Private Insurance Companies and all the defenders of the Status Que around here. This fight is not over and some how I believe that HR-676 has a fighting chance since it is the only option that will cost the least, be less confusing and less disruptive to the economy by just putting private insurance largely out of business and making all those people federal employees (not the CEO’s)

    Funny, somebody mentioned that the United States often tries two, three or four different things before doing the RIGHT thing. The right thing is Single Payer, Obama is making a mistake (and polls reflect it) by saying “You can keep what you have” because that ultimately plays into the narrative the insurance companies have started by saying people like their coverage when the REALITY is they don’t and have little choice in the matter. When they poll they ask specifically people that haven’t had any major problems and have hardly used it.

    This is crazy and I wish Obama and his handlers would stop calling on this nutcases at this talking tours and town meetings.

  3. THOMAS P. TRINKLE on July 30, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Japan Universal Health Care
    Percentage of GDP spent on health care: 8

    Average family premium:$280 per month, with employers paying half.

    Co-payments: 30 percent of the cost of a procedure, but the total amount paid in a month is capped according to income.

    What is it? Japan uses a “social insurance” system in which all citizens are required to have health insurance, either through their work or purchased from a nonprofit, community-based plan. Those who can’t afford the premiums receive public assistance. Most health insurance is private; doctors and almost all hospitals are in the private sector.

    How does it work? Japan boasts some of the best health statistics in the world, no doubt due in part to the Japanese diet and lifestyle. Unlike the U.K., there are no gatekeepers; the Japanese can go to any specialist when and as often as they like. Every two years the Ministry of Health negotiates with physicians to set the price for every procedure. This helps keeps costs down.

    What are the concerns? In fact, Japan has been so successful at keeping costs down that Japan now spends too little on health care; half of the hospitals in Japan are operating in the red. Having no gatekeepers means there’s no check on how often the Japanese use health care, and patients may lack a medical home.

    Listing of life expectancy and annual per-person health care spending:
    USA: 78 -$6,402.00
    Great Britain: 79 -$2,723.00
    France: 80 -$3,374.00
    Germany: 79 -$3,673.00
    Netherlands: 79 -$3,580.00
    Switzerland: 81 -$4,177.00
    Japan: 82 -$2,358.00

    Our health insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Is there not a health care problem in America? Out of control Hospitals get rich while patients go bankrupt. Doctors operate under the stress of legal challenge. Eighty percent of all hospitals are private and profitable non-profit hospitals abound. Hopefully HMO will change to Help Me Out!

    Here in Japan universal health care is based on the salary. Half the premium is paid by the employer. Each month for myself, my wife, and three children my payment is around three hundred dollars. The number of dependents is not considered in payment. Each time someone goes for medical treatment the charge is 30% of the fee. This includes any treatment from a headache to terminal cancer. Lawsuits are seldom if ever filed. There is no specified doctor or hospital to visit. The cost of medicine is decided by the government which means throughout the whole country the cost of an aspirin is the same everywhere. Some problems with the system are doctors are given so much respect that it is difficult to take legal action. At the hospitals you may find yourself waiting for two or more hours. At Keio University Hospital in Tokyo it is said that one doctor sometimes has to see as many as 100 patients per day.
    Operations are done by teams of doctors who absolutely are some of the most dedicated and skillful I have ever seen. Many doctors have studied in the states at the best medical facilities. It is said that in Japan the hospitals go bankrupt but in America the patient goes bankrupt. Government control is not bad when it works for the health of the country. The key is that everyone is enrolled. Even unemployed pay the lowest premiums. Everyone pays something. There is exception for people of physical disability. No free riders. Japan has the longest life span in the world and universal health care contributes toward the goal of living a long healthy life.

    People fear government intervention but how about Medicare or Social Security? Are these not forms of socialism?

    My great wish is to return to America after so many years working in Japan but that dream was shattered with a heart attack. The cost of the emergency room, operation, and ten days was around six thousand dollars. I wonder what this would cost in Allentown, Pa.

  4. charles allen on July 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I met a Canadian from Alberta and he said that his health care is the best in the world. He said, “guess how much it costs?” He showed me a big zero. I asked him,”Guess how much I pay?” I said,”$1019 a month.”

  5. Ellizabeth J. Singh on July 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    My inlaws live near Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton. I know you are speaking the truth about Canadian healthcare. I am afraid for my underinsured 60-year old brother and my uninsurable 41-year-old son, but I don’t want to give up my U. S. citizenship to emigrate with my son to Canada. Looks like I’ll have to stay here and lobby the [unprintable]s who have hijacked our health care insurance system.

    Elizabeth Johnston Singh

  6. Barbara R on July 31, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Will America ever get it? It is so simple it makes perfect sense, profits = 2x-3x the costs.

    It makes me so angry when I a commercial slandering single-payer nations. I see the small print on the bottom “paid for by”. Do people honestly think these commercials are sponsored by a charitable organization concerned for peoples well being…duh.

    There would be no such thing as pre-approval if we had universal healthcare… thats real freedom.

  7. Rick Thomas on July 31, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Leave our health care system alone Obama!
    Its insane to think our whole health care system has to be reformed
    when only a small precentage of the population does not have health
    insurance,and even then cover them for only catastrophic illness.
    For everything else go to the emergency room where no one is turned
    We have the best medical care in the world, and thats why people
    want to come here for treatment,and why medical personel want to train here.
    Including Canadians.

  8. Richard K. on July 31, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    In a recent article published in Toronto by the Globe and Mail newspaper:

    “The largest survey on primary health care ever conducted in Canada found that most people have high praise for their family doctor, and a staggering 92 per cent would recommend their physician to a relative or friend.

    Canadians – except those living in Nunavut – have excellent access to primary health care: 85 per cent of people aged 12 and older have a regular doctor, and two thirds have been seeing the same doctor for five years or more, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) study, released yesterday.

    The study found that 95 per cent of Canadians with chronic health conditions had a regular place of care, either a family doctor, or community health centre.

    Two thirds of Canadians said their doctor allows them enough time to discuss their fears and concerns about their health.

    More than 54 per cent of those surveyed required ongoing medical care within the past year. Of those, only 13 per cent experienced difficulties getting an appointment or contacting a doctor. Most were able to see a doctor within seven days”

    As a Canadian who travels to the US on business I am often amazed at how my colleagues view the Canadian health system. It is unfortunate that a society as rich and vibrant as the US views universal health care for all its citizen with such fear and loathing unlike Canadian who are happy with their system.

  9. Sharon on August 1, 2009 at 5:15 am

    I am an American living in Canada. When I came here, I’d heard all the boogie man scare tactics before about *gasp* socialized medicine and was worried…back then like most American’s of the Clinton era, though I liked them I did NOT want universal healthcare. We must remember what the climate was like then…if there is opposition NOW with the American system in crisis back then there as an outright hellbent war that got personal to stop it. It was full of lies.

    I knew when Obama used those same Harry and Louise ads against a fellow democrat right then and there in my gut that we were not going to get single payer in the U.S. if he won the White House. Don’t ask me how but, it gave me a sick feeling to see that happen. I had hoped against hope I was wrong because I have chronic illnesses and so does my son. I cannot afford to move home until the United States takes care of it’s people, ALL of it’s people with single payer. NO OTHER system will work there and anything else is a sell out doomed to fail. If this mess that Mr. Obama is selling does fail?? Then we will NEVER get single payer because that failure will be used to say that single payer too will not work…

    Since I have been here I have been very lucky to have enjoyed an excellent health care system that is not going to bankrupt my family, it means that just because my son and I have healthcare issues we don’t have to chose between healthcare and our home, or healthcare and his education…or be totally denied the care we need.

    What I have come to conclude is that it has to be single payer or it will not work. The U.S. is missing out on what other advanced nations have been giving their citizens as a right for a long, long time and that is healthcare for all citizens. PLEASE write to congress and to the president and so no compromises will do…single payer universal healthcare for all Americans is the only viable, affordable, workable option. Until then? I will remain right where I am though I am thousands of miles away from my home and family because at least here the government doesn’t care if I have expensive insurance and I don’t get told by some HMO where I have to go for care and who can give it. I need surgery…I get it…no cost to me and I get it in a timely fashion.

    The lies that are being spread about Universal healthcare here are appalling and so is Obama’s compromised plan. We’ve waited sixty years and fought hard for single payer…now is not the time for selling out. He isn’t even facing the relentless hate mongering that Hillary Clinton did..not to that level he’s not…why continue to pander to insurance companies and pharmas??? I do not understand his proposal as I read it there are HUGE loopholes for insurance companies to keep on gouging citizens. I urge all of you to please read all one thousand pages…it’s a non advancement to say the least. So disappointing.

    Most ALL Canadians I ever asked said they wouldn’t want the American system in a million the fear mongering is lies…all lies. Americans deserve single payer and NOTHING LESS!

  10. Sharon on August 1, 2009 at 5:19 am

    To Elizabeth, you do NOT have to give up your U.S. citizenship to live in Canada!

  11. Lori White on August 1, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Every American needs to read this gentleman’s letter and know that he speaks the truth about the Canadian system.

  12. Walking Turtle on August 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I think Mr. Obama’s Vested Capital Management Interests and Wall Street Cabinet of Sycophantic Political Handlers all are truly AFRAID of their own Free Market Competition action and subsequent rhetorical blowback a-dawnin’ on their sorry tuchus, even though they are ALL Stalwart Globalizing Chicago-School Economic Capitalist Predators to a man-jack. But why does a dim-witted ‘Merkin think this is so re the US Health Coverage Thingie, even in the midst of the greatest National News Blackout ever mounted by any infandous empire against its own citizenry to this day?

    Because the entire stinking cack-and-whoopee show is quite clearly, time after pundited-to-death time, presented on the entirely false and stinkingly obvious “Either/Or” Model of Media-Controlled Pseudo-Public Pseudo-Debate.

    To illustrate: Per the punditry amid the flashing lights and scrolling headlines, it is said again and again like a Mantram of Mammon that EITHER we shall be allowed to have the “Public Option” (and keep our existing high-ticket/low-service/limited-availability coverage but it might be “Kinder and Gentler” if we try it FOREVER) – OR (long shot) we might be allowed to have “Universal Single Payer” coverage and (Oh NOOO-OOO-oo!) be MADE to GIVE UP our PRIVATE plans one and all, to just be collectivized into the Common Risk Pool like some kinda’ COMMONISTS or sumpin’.

    End of debate goodnight and have a nice life now move along move along ’cause the NEW Gyrating Spandex Bling-Bling BoomBoom Show is coming up next! (Don’t miss it.)

    Such BOOSH-WAH this falsefaced quasi-public “National Debate” from Corporate Pinstripe Hell truly IS! Over such false-framed “choices” at THAT! I for one am here to call BULLSHITE on it all in the entirety.

    So here is what I for one would surely say to Mister Obama if ONLY he were to LISTEN this time:

    “Mister Obama! Kindly DO just open up enrollent in the already-runs-OK US Medicare Plan to ALL of the Rest of Us! Let the Private Insurance Plans COMPETE FREELY with the National Health Insurance Limited-Access Plan we already have! Just open it up to ALL!

    There is NOTHING imvho to keep us from freely deciding whether Universal Medicare or Corporate Providers might be the superior choice – in fact, although quite clearly neither is a “perfect solution”, at least Medicare as we know it does NOT GOUGE the patient into bankruptcy, starvation and a life of crime on the streets merely to pay the thousands-per-month family premium demanded by the corporate “providers”.

    So level the tilt out of the playing field or marketplace atcmb, then publicly challenge all the Big Insurance Companies to COMPETE on the FREE and OPEN MARKET with the one DECENT single-payer plan we ALREADY HAVE. Then let WE the PEOPLE decide which is better! Five years hence, you or your successor can make any necessary mid-course corrections in fees and/or benefits that might heave into view in the interim.”

    THAT is what I would say to Mister Obama, if only Mr. Rahm “Apple-Bonker” Emmanuel’d stand aside and let ME the HUMAN BEING speak the truth of the matter to Mr. Obama for a change. Alas, that sort of chivalry seemeth to not be the gentleman’s truest nature… Corpy-allegianced Power People sure do seem to get bluer, meanier, uglier, nastier and more deadly murderous as they “mature”.

    Lookit: Call me what you will, but any genuine “radical” worth their salt’d already be up in arms and out after us all having access to the SAME PLAN that CONGRESS, the President, the DoJ and all other Federal Employees enjoy. Now, THAT is a REAL Health Care Plan. But no, them Feddsey Beltway piglets do seem very happy with quietly keeping that particular fine sweet pie all to themselves. Now why do we suppose THAT might be, HM?

    Like we’d never notice, huh.

    I am Walking Turtle. John 8:32 is STILL Just All Right by ME. Let her RIP.

    And that is all.

  13. Danny Ruiz on August 4, 2009 at 12:25 am

    I came from Cuba 13 years ago looking for freedom in America. What was the worst thing ever happened to me so far here? Well, a hospital bill that turned into a nightmare to pay it off. I was in the ER waiting room of the UMC in Las Vegas, NV for 6 hours because asthma crisis. Of course, for me in Cuba health care was not everything, freedom it is. I would like the bad govertment in Cuba gone but not the Universal Health Care they are running. Americans need to experiences what is UHC. Here Drs. and insurances are looking for how much they are gonna make and forget the human been, which is inmoral. Lets all support Free Health Care for all Americans. It’s sad and horrible to see your relative die because no money are available. For God sake it’s a human right, not a business. I’m proud became US citizen a year ago and UHC is something I will like to see happens here too.