December 13, 2012 -- Monday night, a small crowd gathered at the Clinton Street Theater for a film screening of The Healthcare Movie (http://www.healthcaremovie.net/), a documentary about the history of the Canadian healthcare system that was produced by a Canadian/American couple Laurie Simons and Terry Sterrenberg to dispel myths and stereotypes about Canada's healthcare system – specifically, that Canadian citizens dislike their healthcare system and frequently travel to the United States for care.
The film also showed interviews with Canadian activists, who helped create Alberta's single-payer system in the 1960s (before single-payer was adopted as a nationwide program). The activists interviewed in the film helped operated clinics, with the aid of British doctors (who were flown in to provide care for the province) after Alberta's doctors went on strike.
According to the documentary, clinics occasionally had to be evacuated due to death threats from people opposed to the program (the documentary did not say from whom). Eventually, Alberta's program became quite popular with the public as well as with doctors – due to cost savings, the lack of administrative concerns for doctors and increased access to care for the public.
Eric Lambert, who lived in Taiwan for seven years, said as a type one diabetic, he was better able to manage his health in Taiwan (which has a national healthcare program) because he was able to see doctors regularly and get medication with little out-of-pocket cost.
“I'm actually that person who's kind of on the edge here in America,” Lambert said. “Being a diabetic is a twenty-dollar-a-day habit.”
Dr. Peter Mahr, from Physicians for a National Health Program, became involved with the movement for single-payer care after watching his patients wait too long to seek care. One patient – a man with hepatitis C – had a tumor growing out of his breast bone, which turned out to be metastatic cancer.
Richard Bruno, a medical student in his fourth year at OHSU, has been working on a video project of uninsured people talking about their experiences with the healthcare system. After showing the videos to 900 medical students, 86 percent said everyone should receive care regardless of ability to pay and 72 percent said they preferred the public system (i.e. taxes) of financing healthcare.
Mahr said he was campaigning for single-payer care because the Affordable Care Act will leave too many people uninsured and drive up costs. He also said 41 percent of Massachusetts doctors support a single-payer program, up a few points from polls conducted before the state's current system (which is similar to what the ACA proposes) was adopted.
“What we're talking about here is access to insurance, not access to care,” Mahr said.
Responding to an audience question about whether innovation and competition could continue in a system without a profit motive, Bruno said a lot of innovation (in the form of new treatments, drugs and devices) comes from research funded by the National Institutes of Health. As far as competition, he said: “They've [the insurance companies] been doing it for a few decades and it hasn't gotten any cheaper. It's gotten more expensive.”
Lindsay Caron, who worked on the documentary, said of insurance companies, “They're not innovating. They're not creating anything. They're the ones profiting.”
Ross Lampert, an organizer with Healthcare for All Oregon, said his organization is forming chapters across the state, including eastern Oregon and in coastal communities, to raise support for a single-payer healthcare bill during the upcoming legislative session.
Image for this story by Alexandre Canina (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr.