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We fact checked Mike Pence’s critiques of Canada’s healthcare system

The Republicans are aiming north as the Graham-Cassidy bill to replace Obamacare falls apart.

by Justin Ling
Sep 26 2017, 2:28pm

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is on tour, trying to drum up public support for the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare. While the bill is new, Pence’s talking points on the dangers of socialized medicine are very, very old.

Speaking on radio KFQD-Anchorage, the vice president took aim at America’s northern neighbour.

“Somewhere in between where I’m sitting in Washington, D.C. and Alaska is a place called Canada,” Pence told host Dave Stieren. “I probably don’t need to tell the people Alaska about the failings of national socialized healthcare because it’s right in our neighbor and you see the results every day.”

Pence was on a kick of radio interviews and stump speeches promoting the most recent GOP health bill, dubbed Graham-Cassidy for its two co-authors, which would leave “millions” more Americans uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Asked about those comments, a spokesperson for Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor did not address them directly except to say that Canadians are “proud” of their system, as “it ensures that all Canadians have access to necessary care based on medical need and not ability or willingness to pay.”

Other Republican politicians have been on similar campaigns. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last week that if you’re looking for an artificial hip in Canada: “You’re not going to get it if you’re over a certain age.”

Barrasso added that Canada has “trick or treat medicine, because if that hospital runs out of money, Wolf, by Halloween, October 31, it’s time to wait. And then you have still got to wait until the next year to get in line.”

He goes on to say that this healthcare rationing is true for artificial joints and cataract surgery.

“And if you do have the heart operation in Canada, your chances of not surviving are a lot higher than if you have the same operation in the United States.”

These claims have been around for some time, but that doesn’t make them accurate. VICE News fact-checked Republican claims on Canada’s healthcare system.

Is Canadian healthcare “failing”?

According to life expectancy data for both countries, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a group of rich countries), Canadian citizens of every age group, regardless of gender, will live longer than their American counterparts by nearly three years

Canadians also have better rates of survival from infectious and parasitic diseases, have fewer birth complications, and a better chance of recovering from heart diseases than Americans. And the list goes on.

Worse health outcomes south of the border don’t exist due to a lack of spending.

The U.S. spends roughly 83 percent more, from public and private sources, per citizen on healthcare than Canada. That margin remains true if you look at the data before the advent of Obamacare. America spends roughly 14.5 percent of its GDP on healthcare, more than any other OECD country. Canada spends 9.1 percent.

In short, Canada’s healthcare system is not failing, according to OECD data. When it comes to human longevity and economic efficiency, Canada scores better than the U.S.

Claim? Not true.

The agist artificial hip

Senator Barrasso’s claim that you’re not going to get an artificial hip in Canada if you are “over a certain age” is interesting.

Luckily, the Canadian Institute for Health Information puts together an annual report on the Canadian Joint Replacement Registry.

Their 2014 data reports that age doesn’t appear to be a factor when getting a new hip.

Roughly one-quarter of those who received hip transplants that year were between 75 and 84, and another 15 percent were over 85.

When it comes to wait times, America certainly has a leg up. In Canada, most patients can get hip replacement surgery within about three months — nearly all patients can get the surgery within eight months. But those wait times are certainly shorter south of the border; as long as you have cash or decent health insurance.

Is the senator’s claim true? Not really.

Trick or treat medicine

Barrasso’s claim that Canadian hospitals have had to push back surgeries because they run out of money at the end of the year is pretty bold.

His data might stem from a handful of news stories, and a report from earlier this year on surgery delays in Canada.

Indeed, St Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, had to push back some 600 cataract surgeries because the hospital was short on cash — they received many more referrals for surgery than their annual funding could cover.

But that seems to be a rare occurrence.

A peer-reviewed study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that emergency surgery delays do happen, causing negative health outcomes. But those delays were not due to a simple lack of cash, the study said. They were usually happened because the surgeon was not available, or because the surgery was bumped by a more pressing case.

Barrasso’s argument that the cut-off date was — for whatever reason — Halloween is pretty hard to explain.

Is it true? It has a tiny sliver of truth.

The deadly heart operation

Do more people die on the operating table in Canada?

This one might just be unknowable.

There are a number of studies on this issue, but little comparison between the two countries. One report, from the free-market Fraser Institute, tried to address exactly that issue by comparing the mortality rate in Ontario with a number of U.S. states.

It did find that Ontario, as of 2004, had one of the highest risk levels for a major type of coronary surgery.

“Twenty U.S. states were found to have mortality rates that were statistically lower than Ontario’s rate in 2004,” the report found. Ontario also performed worse than the U.S. national average.

The data on this issue is not exactly iron-clad or up-to-date. So Barrasso’s warning that you’re more likely to die on the operating table in Canada isn’t definitive.

Is it true? Hard to say.