A common criticism and talking point of those who favor our current American healthcare system over the type of single-payer system that countries like Canada have, is that while Canadians may spend less on healthcare out of pocket when compared to Americans, they’re often subjected to wait times so long that it leads them to seek care in the United States. This has always been a misleading argument. According to the AARP, while Canadians do experience longer wait times, that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting the care that they need. One of the ways Canada has managed to keep healthcare costs at bay is by limiting supply for elective surgeries, a system that could be overhauled if Canadian citizens wanted to pay. They don’t, and those who do get their elective surgeries done in America.
Beyond that, the differences between the current American healthcare system and single-payer are, generally speaking, nuanced and complex. And it turns out that the health insurance companies are well aware of that fact, even if they act like it’s all totally simple and straightforward. At least according to Wendell Potter, former vice president of corporate communications for the health insurance company Cigna, who came clean in a Twitter thread about the type of health insurance propaganda he used to push at Cigna, and how it was designed to mislead the American public, and how that deception has come to affect the country’s failed response to the coronavirus.
Amid America's #COVID19 disaster, I must come clean about a lie I spread as a health insurance exec: We spent big $$ to push the idea that Canada's single-payer system was awful & the U.S. system much better. It was a lie & the nations' COVID responses prove it. The truth: (1/6)
— Wendell Potter (@wendellpotter) June 25, 2020
“Amid America’s #COVID19 disaster, I must come clean about a lie I spread as a health insurance exec,” begins Potter, “Here’s the truth: Our industry PR & lobbying group, AHIP, supplied my colleagues & me with cherry-picked data and anecdotes to make people think Canadians wait endlessly for their care. It’s a lie & I”ll always regret the disservice I did to folks on both sides of the border. In Canada, no one gets turned away from doctors due to lack of funds, In America, exorbitant bills are a defining feature of the system.”
Potter also takes some time in his thread to dispel the popular talking point that the American health care system has better quality of care, writing:
“When it comes to #COVID19, there’s been ~ 21 deaths per 100,000 in Canada, versus 34 per 100,000 in the U.S. Remember, In Canada there are no co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance ever. Care is free at the point of service… you learn a lot about a healthcare system when a global crisis hits & different nations have different results. Canada’s single-payer system is saving lives. The U.S. profit-driven corporate model is failing.”
According to data collected by Johns Hopkins, while the U.S. has almost 2.5 million cases of COVID-19 across the country, Canada has just 104,087 cases. Visual representations of Canada’s efforts to flatten their COVID-19 curve show us that by all accounts, the American response to the coronavirus has been a significant failure. It should also be noted that Canada’s total population 37.59 is only a fraction of that of the U.S. which has a total population of 328.2 million (California alone has a population of 39.51 million), so even in a best-case COVID-19 scenario, the U.S. would still likely have a higher case count than Canada.
Obviously, a Twitter thread about how big medicine acts in the interests of profits isn’t going to dissect the issue in every which way, but Potter’s overarching point stands: COVID-19 has shown that our health care system — like much of America — is due for a massive refresh.