Born/Raised in Canada

Single Payer Benefits

By Garry Johnson, AFT 6157 Council of Division Reps, EVC Nursing Faculty

Garry Johnson
Garry Johnson

“Born and raised in Canada!” These are words that I have often said because I am very proud of my Canadian roots. I was schooled there. I worked there and acquired pension credits until I was in my late 30s. I was a union member there. But this is not an article about Canada. This is an article about fairness, decency and respect.

Canadian flag with a stethoscopeI grew up poor — very poor. It was the far north east coast of Canada. A place called Newfoundland, where poverty takes hold, like the barnacles that cling to the rocks on its shore. It’s ever present. Everyone around me was poor. Our families were fishermen, and a few lucky ones worked at the hospital. We had outhouses, fuel deliveries for oil furnaces, wood stoves, no insulation and lots of fish.

Our mothers baked bread twice a week. We ate fish six days a week. We ate mayonnaise sandwiches. We shared a single slice of cheese among four children. I distinctly remember my mother stretching dough so thin that it had holes in it, just like our clothes.

There was something else that helped. Something omnipresent that was there my whole life — something that provided hope and comfort to my single mother and our fishing community.

Single Payer Universal Health Care

I was born in 1965. That was the same year that a Canadian hero introduced Universal Healthcare under the Canada Health Act (CHA). His name was Tommy Douglas. Like me, Tommy grew up poor, on farms in Saskatchewan, and he knew the power and value of people coming together to form unions and alliances and programs such as Single Payer Universal Healthcare. He was revolutionary for Canada for using an idea that was already more than 80 years old then — and 130 years old now.

The Canada Health Act (CHA), that he introduced, guarantees that every Canadian receives all health care from maternity to nursing homes to acute care to health promotion and disease prevention. It is founded on the principles of Comprehensiveness, Accessibility, Universality, Public Administration and Portability. Founded in 1965, CHA is the same age as me. We celebrate our birthdays together and CHA is worth celebrating. It is treasured by Canadians.

All Medical Care- Provided for and Free:

You see, my mother could take each of us children for our immunizations. She could take us to urgent care when we needed it — like the time my sister had ear infection or my brother burned his hands on the wood stove. I’m not sure what my mother would have done if she had to pay for all that health care and continue to feed and clothe us. The fact that our healthcare needs, and some of our basic needs were met, meant that we survived. And we survived to climb out of poverty and pay back into a system that helped us out.

In 2003, I decided to come to Hawaii for a travel nurse experience. So there I was. Living in the land of palm trees and Hula dancers and wondering how a poor welfare kid from Newfoundland had hit it big. And the answer was always the same. I didn’t do it on my own. For nearly 40 years, I had Universal Single Payer Health Care. I never worried that my home would be taken if I was suddenly struck with a major illness. I never have had a healthcare bill. We are all interdependent and we all reap the benefits of collectivism.

I try to imagine what the USA would be like with a Single Payer Health Care System. It’s something that most of my American friends cannot imagine. But I can, because it’s the system that I actually know best. I know that the way out of poverty is not a handout. It’s a system that actually supports people and helps them find a way out. Imagine a system where everyone receives care irrespective of social status, wealth, pre-existing condition, age, gender, etc.

There are many arguments for a Single Payer system including improved access, fewer bankruptcies, boosts to the economy, less paperwork, improved public health and most importantly preservation of human rights. Detractors often talk about long wait lists, creeping socialism, increased taxes and debt, but those are not the experiences of all the developed countries with Universal Healthcare, including Canada. Caring about citizenry and providing Universal Healthcare is a way for our country to find pathways out of poverty.

If we want Single Payer Health Care in the USA then we have to be courageous. It will be a struggle. There will be much opposition, misinformation, division and fear. In the end, it will be worth it. The value can be easily found in my mother. The system invested in her and she continues to repay the system through her children and grand-children grandchildren.