Amid all the hyperbole in the ongoing debate about the future of American health care, some of the most extreme public disagreements are over the experiences of our neighbors to the North, in Canada.
Many progressives say the Canadian system of universal care is an excellent role model for our own country. The the upfront costs of establishing such a system, they argue, would eventually be offset by the competitive advantages to American business.
By contrast, American conservatives see the Canadian approach as signifying the end of the freedom to choose your own doctor, the rationing of crucial treatments, and an enormous tax burden.
The argument has played out in congressional hearings, in full-page ads in national newspapers, online and in television commercials.
To see how well a universal health care system like Canada's actually works, the Huffington Post went straight to the source: actual Canadians.
In a decidedly unscientific survey, we emailed about a dozen Canadians with three basic questions, requesting they respond and pass the survey on. We asked which system they would prefer -- their system of universal care, or the U.S. system dominated by private insurers. In addition, we asked them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian system. And some respondents volunteered personal stories about how they have been treated.
All of the two dozen people who wrote in said they preferred Canadian health care system.
"Anyone who cries 'Socialism!' or 'Communism!' to prevent Americans from achieving universal health care is a liar and a thief -- and more to the point, has plenty of money of his own. He's got his!" wrote Lori Covington. "I just hope the American people won't be dumb enough to continue falling for the line that socialized health care means a loss of personal freedom. In fact, it's quite the opposite."
From Nova Scotia, Maureen Moffatt wrote: "I have seen American politicians speak about our system. Just because something doesn't work perfectly in other countries should not be used as support for the status quo in the U.S."
Respondents wrote that no health care system is perfect. The weaknesses of the Canadian system, they said, includes the need to wait for elective surgery, occasional lines in emergency rooms and a shortage of general practitioners and nurses in some provinces. But all felt that security of knowing that you have health care despite your employment situation more than compensated for the disadvantages.
Canada's universal heath care, wrote Peter Puxley, "still falls short in using medical resources efficiently. The use of electronic records is not widespread enough, specialists, family doctors, nurse practitioners, paramedics, etc are not yet organized into the multifaceted health units that the system now envisages to distribute the burden of care more effectively, but that is coming."
Despite the inefficiencies, Puxley would not want to switch to the system in use across the border. "No one is denied care because of an inability to pay," he continued. "I have never been without care when needed. I don't have to worry about my family's needs in that respect either. Nor is my care dependent on my employer."
Many of our respondents took the position that universal health care is an issue of human rights. "A major strength of our system is accessibility," Covington wrote. "I think it is worth paying higher taxes for universal health care. I think access to universal health care should be a universal right."
David Likely, a retired psychologist living in New Brunswick, wrote about the treatment he received for a near-fatal heart attack seven years ago -- treatment he said would have been provided to any Canadian. "Our federal program is a strong unifying influence across the country, encouraging (nearly) equal treatment of people who live in richer or poorer provinces or territories."
Likely needed surgery for a pacemaker and spent two weeks in the hospital recovering. Two years later, he was again hospitalized, that time for diabetes. Those problems, combined with regular preventive care, would have exceeded his savings. Yet his out-of-pocket expense, he said, was nothing.
"I can't believe that I could have got better treatment anywhere in the world," Likely wrote, "but I can easily believe that the cost in the USA would have exceeded my modest retirement savings."
One respondent had lived in both Canada and the U.S. and was able to compare the two. "I have found the quality of the care I've had in Canada to equal or exceed that of the U.S.," he wrote. "Every man, woman and child is covered. It's my opinion that a civilized country takes care of its people."
SEND US YOUR THOUGHTS: These responses to our first Huffington Post survey of Canadians have inspired us to broaden our research. We want to know if these stories are typical. We would like to hear from other Canadians about which they would prefer: The universal Canadian health care or what is currently offered in the U.S.?
Tell us about the strengths and the weaknesses of the Canadian system as opposed to its southern neighbor. And if you'd like, share a personal story that illustrates how the system works, or doesn't.
So, if you have participated in the Canadian health care system and would like to weigh in, please send your responses to: HealthCareEh@gmail.com.