Coronavirus reveals difference in U.S., Canadian health care, former insurance executive says

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The stark differences in how the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded in the U.S. and in Canada show the flaws in for-profit health care, according to a former U.S. health insurance executive who now advocates for medicare.

“You learn a lot about a health-care system when a global crisis hits (and) different nations have different results. Canada’s single-payer system is saving lives,” Wendell Potter said in a series of tweets Thursday.

“The U.S. profit-driven corporate model is failing. I’ll regret slandering Canada’s system for the rest of my life.”

Potter, a former communications vice-president with U.S. insurer Cigna who now leads an organization called Medicare for All Now!, said insurance companies have spent big on attempts to discredit the Canadian system.

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“It was a lie (and) the nations’ COVID responses prove it,” he wrote. “The truth: Canada’s doing much better than the U.S. when it comes to COVID-19 testing and treatment.

“On a per capita basis, more Canadians are being tested (and) fewer getting sick (and) dying. This may shock Americans who still believe the lies I told about the Canadian health care system.”

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

Cigna did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday afternoon. Nor did the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which Potter accused of supplying insurance executives with “cherry-picked data (and) anecdotes” to encourage the perception that Canadians face unreasonable wait times.

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In an interview, Potter said he wanted to draw attention to the reality north of the border, and “what can happen when you have a system that is better organized” than in the United States.

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COVID-19 has claimed more than 8,500 lives in Canada as of Thursday. In the U.S., which has a population nearly nine times greater than Canada’s, there have been more than 122,000 fatalities, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

For every 100,000 people, Canada has had 23 deaths, while the U.S. has had about 37, according to the university researchers’ calculations.

Canada has also tested a greater proportion of its residents. On average, the U.S. has tested 56 people per 100,000 daily, while Canada has tested 65 per 100,000, Johns Hopkins data shows.

In past interviews with Global News, experts have pointed to a number of factors that could be behind the differences in how the pandemic is playing out in Canada versus the U.S.

They pointed to differences in pandemic policy and response co-ordination, as well health care and factors such as population density.

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Potter’s comments were shared widely on the social media platform, though they attracted criticism as well.

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Some took aim at Potter for his work in the industry.

“Apology not accepted,” one commenter wrote.

There was also dispute over the claim that there aren’t long wait-times for procedures and emergency care in Canadian hospitals.

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A 2019 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that most Canadians are getting timely access to urgent procedures, but that about 30 per cent of those needing cataract surgery or hip or knee replacements did not receive those procedures within the recommended timeframes.

Research shows, however, that the U.S. spends far more on health care yet has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates out of 11 high-income countries including Canada.

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Potter worked as a journalist prior to switching to communications and started at Cigna in 1993.

What he called a crisis of conscience over his work — and “vilifying the Canadian system” — prompted Potter to leave the industry more than a decade ago.

“I was very ashamed of what I was doing. I became very ashamed,” he said.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Potter said he believes the U.S. is at a turning point when it comes to support for health-care reform, and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will face public pressure on that issue.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before we ultimately have a system that’s more like yours,” he said.

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