The Canadian Media’s Relentless Push for Privatized Medicine
So-called ‘studies’ by right-wing think tanks have long provided ‘evidence’ for the corporate media to bash big government and extol the virtues of the private corporations which, coincidentally, fund the think tanks.
The mainstream media treat these studies like gospel, and why not? The findings are common sense.
Take for example a recent study on health care by the Frontier Centre of Winnipeg. It introduces a few new twists on a tired and discredited theme: private is better than public.
The twists are necessary as a quandary has developed. It’s become increasingly difficult for free market think tanks and corporate media in Canada to directly and openly espouse private medicine as practiced in the U.S. Word has gotten out, via Michael Moore’s Sicko and the World Health Organization data and others, that the U.S. system seriously sucks.
So, how do you promote private medicine, when it costs the most and provides the least? Well, judging from a recent study and the reporting on it, you use magician’s slight-of-hand to substitute Europe for the
Bit amateurish, perhaps, but desperate times call for deceitful measures.
To begin with, the Frontier Centre report released in January admits (p16) that while all of the European countries included in the study were given a chance to provide “more recent data” and/or “higher quality data” than what was in the public domain, Canadian provinces and the federal government were not. This means the comparisons are not equal, and may be misleading.
Additionally, according to World Health Organization data, all of the European countries, like
The most meaningful comparison for those considering private health care, is the
But first, what happened to Canadian health care? The ‘business liberals’ of the Jean Chretien government and then-finance minister Paul Martin cut health and education transfer payments to the provinces from $17.3 billion in 1995, to $12.9 billion in 1996, and then $10.3 billion in 1997—a 40 percent cut in two years.
These deliberate and unnecessary actions manufactured a crisis in
The Canadian single-provider health care system is still demonstrably more cost effective than its American counterpart. On a per capita basis, the Canadian system costs 48 percent less, with 100 percent coverage. In the
In the words of Dr. Christopher Murray of the World Health Organization (WHO), "Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you're an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries."
Well, how well are we doing? What we see from the World Health Organization’s 2006 statistics is that although
In spite of this, powerful forces in
The answer is profits. Although the system of multiple private providers is less efficient and more costly, it is very profitable for the insurers and other corporations involved. Canadian insurance companies want some of these profits, and their chums in government who make the laws want their friends in business to profit greatly, even if it means adopting an inferior system.
In writing this, I don’t have the “smoking gun,” which might consist of an email from Paul Martin to his (and Chretien’s, Bob Rae’s, and Mulroney’s) mentor at Power Corporation, Paul Desmarais Sr. But, as I pointed out in Democracy’s Oxygen, the family ties are very close, and it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to think of them sharing thoughts about policy initiatives over dinner. Chretien’s daughter France is married to Paul Desmarais’ son Andre; Paul Desmarais Sr. sold Canada Steamship Lines for $195 million to his then-employee Paul Martin, in 1981. Desmarais also hired Brian Mulroney as a lawyer to help settle a strike at his
As Peter C. Newman noted, “No businessman in Canadian history has ever had more intimate and more extended influence with Canadian prime ministers than Desmarais.”viii
Multi- billionaire Desmarais’ group of companies includes Great West Life Assurance Co., Canada Life Assurance Co., London Life Insurance Co., Great-West Lifeco Inc., Great-West Life & Annuity Assurance Co., London Reinsurance Group, and others.
These companies—and Desmarais—stand to benefit enormously from privatization of medical care and medical insurance in
Through Gesca Ltee., and Power Communications, Desmarais has also been a significant news media owner over the decades. In the 1990s, he partnered with Conrad Black in controlling the Southam newspaper chain, the largest in the country. Today, Gesca controls seven daily newspapers in
This media ownership did not harm Desmarais or Black when it came to promoting their shared belief in private enterprise. And it may go some of the way toward explaining the news media’s steady criticism of public health care, and advocacy of private health care.
Dr. James Winter is a professor of media studies at the
i Editorial, “Health Care: How our System Compares,” The
ii Murray Dobbin, Paul Martin: CEO For Canada? James Lorimer & Co. Ltd.,
iii The Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2007. Total expenditures in 2006 were $148 billion, or $4548 per capita. http://secure.cihi.ca/cihiweb/dispPage.jsp?cw_page=media_05dec2006_e#1.
iv Plunkett Research, Ltd. Industry Statistics, Trends and In-depth Analysis of Top Companies. Health Care Trends. 1) Introduction to the Health Care Industry
Health Expenditures and Services in the
v Holly Sklar, “Time For Health Care For All On Medicare's 40th Anniversary,” ZNet Daily Commentary, August 13, 2005, www.zmag.org
vi "Universal health care advocate speaks," The University of Pittsburgh, University Times, Vol. 39:5, Oct. 26, 2006. Ron Pollack, founding executive director of Families USA. The Oct. 19, 2006 lecture was part of the Rubash Distinguished Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the
vii See Jim Grieshaber-Otto and Scott Sinclair, Bad Medicine: Trade treaties, privatization and health care reform in
viii Peter C. Newman, “Epitaph for the two-party state,” Maclean’s, November 1, 1993, p. 14.