Toronto doc backs Bernie, sings praises of health care

Toronto Star - - WORLD - Daniel Dale Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau Chief

WASH­ING­TON— One by one, an Amer­i­can doc­tor, Amer­i­can nurse, Amer­i­can mother and Amer­i­can busi­ness­man ex­plained to the cam­eras why their coun­try’s health sys­tem is a disas­ter.

Then Bernie San­ders called up the Cana­dian stand­ing be­hind him. She had a kind of magic trick to per­form.

Dr. Danielle Martin, a fam­ily physi­cian from Toronto, de­scribed a glo­ri­ous place, “just north of your bor­der,” where ev­ery­one is cov­ered, costs are lower, out­comes are bet­ter and peo­ple have no idea what it’s like to cough up cash for the priv­i­lege of de­liv­er­ing a child. Martin re­vealed her OHIP card. “I just handed over this card, my Cana­dian health-care card, to my doc­tor. And that was it,” Martin said.

Some of the San­ders devo­tees sit­ting in the packed room on Capi­tol Hill mur­mured ap­pre­cia­tively, as if she had just con­jured a rab­bit.

“I wish that all of my Amer­i­can neigh­bours could ex­pe­ri­ence the same sim­plic­ity in their mo­ments of need,” Martin con­tin­ued. “And I hope that the Amer­i­can peo­ple will seize this op­por­tu­nity to de­clare to each other, and to the rest of the world, that you do be­lieve ac­cess to health care is a hu­man right.” The oc­ca­sion was mo­men­tous: San­ders, joined by high-pro­file Demo­cratic col­leagues in the Se­nate, was in­tro­duc­ing a “Medi­care for All” bill to trans­form the U.S. health sys­tem from a patch­work of pri­vate and pub­lic in­sur­ance to a govern­ment-run sin­gle-payer sys­tem like Canada’s.

“Health care in Amer­ica must be a right, not a priv­i­lege,” he said. “To­day, we be­gin the long and dif­fi­cult strug­gle to end the in­ter­na­tional dis­grace of the United States, our great na­tion, be­ing the only ma­jor coun­try on earth not to guar­an­tee health care to all of our peo­ple.”

San­ders, the Ver­mont so­cial demo­crat who lives near the bor­der, has made Canada cen­tral to his ini­tial pitch. He ex­tolled Canada’s sin­gle­payer sys­tem in a New York Times op-ed on Wed­nes­day morn­ing and then at the rally on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

“You know, 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. And one of the ex­am­ples of a sin­gle-payer sys­tem that is work­ing well, that is pop­u­lar, is the Cana­dian sys­tem,” San­ders said in in­tro­duc­ing Martin.

Martin, a vice-pres­i­dent at Women’s Col­lege Hospi­tal and the for­mer chair of Cana­dian Doc­tors for Medi­care, came to the se­na­tor’s at­ten­tion with the mo­ment that made her an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion.

Tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a San­ders-chaired U.S. Se­nate com­mit­tee in 2014, Martin trounced an ill-pre­pared Repub­li­can se­na­tor who pep­pered her with neg­a­tive ques­tions about Cana­dian care. The video has been viewed mil­lions of times.

San­ders is still years, per­haps decades, from a re­al­is­tic chance of a leg­isla­tive vic­tory. But the Wed­nes­day scene showed just how much has changed in two years.

San­ders cam­paigned on sin­gle-payer care dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign. Un­der Barack Obama, how­ever, Democrats lined up be­hind the sig­nif­i­cant-but-in­cre­men­tal changes of the pres­i­dent’s Af­ford­able Care Act, rel­e­gat­ing San­ders to his reg­u­lar place on the left-wing fringe.

His po­si­tion is fast be­come the party stan­dard.

Un­set­tled and en­er­gized by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­tempts to re­peal Oba­macare, and dis­mayed that more than 25 mil­lion peo­ple re­main unin­sured, much of the Demo­cratic base is ag­i­tat­ing for a true uni­ver­sal sys­tem.

And now some of their most prom­i­nent elected of­fi­cials are fall­ing in line be­hind a pro­posal Hil­lary Clin­ton said will “never, ever come to pass.”

San­ders’s bill has quickly gained 16 Se­nate cospon­sors. Though al­most all of them rep­re­sent lib­eral states, they amount to a third of the Demo­cratic cau­cus.

“Peo­ple who are an­gry at Trump’s elec­tion, a lot of Demo­cratic base folks, are say­ing, ‘We de­mand this. We’re tired of tin­ker­ing with this, we want to fix it.’ So they’re putting huge pres­sure on their se­na­tors,” said Min­nesota Sen. John Marty, the lead­ing pro­po­nent of sin­gle-payer there. “And th­ese se­na­tors are say­ing, ‘Oh, what am I go­ing to do? Keep de­fend­ing a bro­ken sys­tem when my folks are say­ing we want some­thing bet­ter and I know the bro­ken sys­tem can’t be fixed?’ ”

Join­ing San­ders on Wed­nes­day were four se­na­tors thought to be con­tem­plat­ing their own runs for pres­i­dent: Eliz­a­beth Warren, Ka­mala Har­ris, Kirsten Gil­li­brand and Cory Booker.

“I love my north­ern neigh­bour,” Booker said, “but it is em­bar­rass­ing to me to have a Cana­dian stand here in the cap­i­tal of the United States of Amer­ica and talk about a sys­tem that takes care of their chil­dren bet­ter than we take care of our chil­dren.”

San­ders would cre­ate a sys­tem far more gen­er­ous than Cana­dian prov­inces of­fer. Un­like OHIP, it would of­fer full cov­er­age for vi­sion and den­tal care, and par­tial cov­er­age for pre­scrip­tion drugs, to ev­ery­one in­clud­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

The cost, there­fore, would be higher. San­ders did not say how he would pay. His bill has no chance of pass­ing un­der a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress and he de­scribed it as a mere first step in a con­sul­ta­tive process.

Two-thirds of Amer­i­cans cur­rently have pri­vate in­sur­ance, with more than half cov­ered through their em­ploy­ers.

San­ders pro­poses a po­lit­i­cally per­ilous forced trans­fer of th­ese peo­ple onto the govern­ment Medi­care pro­gram re­served for se­niors.

Some Repub­li­cans are still at­tempt­ing to re­peal Oba­macare, and Trump ap­plauded their ef­fort, with­out en­dors­ing their spe­cific pro­posal, in a Wed­nes­day state­ment. Press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders called Bernie San­ders’s pro­posal “a hor­ri­ble idea.”

“I can’t think of any­thing worse than hav­ing the govern­ment be more in­volved in your health care in­stead of less in­volved,” she said.


Dr. Danielle Martin holds up her health card at Sen. Bernie San­ders’ Medi­care of All un­veil­ing in Wash­ing­ton. “I wish that all of my Amer­i­can neigh­bours could ex­pe­ri­ence the same sim­plic­ity in their mo­ments of need,” she said.

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