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You Can’t Beat a Pandemic if You’re Afraid of the Doctor

By Adrienne Rand, VP Strategy

Healthcare worker with stethoscope and mask in gloved hand

Last week my mom in LA flipped me a VOX article entitled  “ Canada succeeded on coronavirus where America failed. Why?” 

Having lived in Toronto for over a decade, I immediately clicked on the article and was surprised by its full title – “Canada beat the US on coronavirus because its political system works.” While I’m sure Canada’s political system and leadership didn’t hurt Canada’s COVID-19 efforts, that’s not why Canada has been more successful at staving off this viral enemy. It’s because Canada has universal health coverage and the US does not. 

And with universal health coverage comes a cascade of behaviors, attitudes and system readiness that has allowed Canada to have fewer cases of Coronavirus than the US had deaths. (Per capita the US infection rate is more than double that of Canada.)  

So why does universal healthcare matter so much in this fight? 

Because universal healthcare meant that Canadians went into this fight healthier. Cradle to grave coverage gives Canadians roughly four more years of good health relative to Americans, and Canadians are less likely to die of heart disease and stroke than Americans. Canadians were healthier before COVID started because they’ve had access to yearly check-ups for their entire life. They’ve been able to receive treatments needed while they were sick and those in better health standing have been the ones better equipped to recover from the virus.

Because universal healthcare meant that Canada could respond faster with a coordinated testing strategy in the vital early days of the pandemic. Sure, the SARS outbreak may have given Canada an upper hand in preparedness, but with its single-payer health system there is infrastructure to coordinate actions. The US’s hodge-podge of systems doesn’t allow for the same agility in response. 

Because universal healthcare meant that unwell Canadians didn’t fear going to the doctor to get tested/treated. When you’re worried about your health or your child’s health in Canada, you don’t weigh the financial fall-out of your potential illness before seeking treatment. Americans do. Four in ten say they fear the crippling cost of an illness – that’s more than the number of people from the same survey who feared the illness itself – and as a result 25% delay treatment of serious medical conditions. 

The cherry on top? America pays far more for health care than Canada spends on its own.

Is Canadian healthcare perfect? Of course not. But if this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that universal healthcare isn’t just a matter of life and death for people in poverty as some might believe. It is a life and death matter for everyone. The inter-connectedness of our health has never been clearer, nor has the case for universal health care. It’s time we create enough public pressure on our political and business leaders to make universal health coverage a reality.

Americans afraid of going to the doctor risk sickening us all.