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Health Freedom Watch
June 2005


President's Message: It's Time to Unsocialize Medicare in the U.S.
By Sue Blevins

In response to the recent Canadian Supreme Court decision striking down the ban on private health insurance, the Wall Street Journal noted that Canada was the only nation other than Cuba and North Korea to have such a prohibition. However, one other country restricts private payment for health care and virtually forces citizens into government health insurance. The United States!

The original Medicare law (passed in 1965) declared in Section 1802, "[F]ree choice by patient guaranteed." But this provision was amended and seniors' freedom was limited with passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. That law included Section 4507, which penalizes physicians who accept private payment for Medicare-covered services: any doctor who does so must stop seeing all Medicare patients for two years. The United Seniors Association challenged this rule in federal court, but the judges avoided the issue, ruling only that non-covered services could be privately paid for.

Additionally, when American workers retire at age 65 they must enroll in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance or HI) or forgo their Social Security benefits. So decrees Social Security Administration policy no. HI 00801.002: "Waiver of HI Entitlement by Monthly Beneficiary." In other words, if seniors prefer to keep their private health insurance and reject government coverage for hospitalization, they pay a hefty financial penalty.

To unsocialize Medicare the United States needs to ensure that all seniors are free to pay privately for heath care and health insurance without penalty for exercising their rights. Otherwise, Americans might want to begin saving their cash for trips to Canada to obtain private health care.

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Canadian Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Private Health Insurance

A physician who challenged Quebec's prohibition on private health insurance has won a major victory in the Canadian Supreme Court.

Dr. Jacques Chaoulli and his patient George Zeliotis argued that the ban on buying private health insurance violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Quebec Charter of Rights. On June 9 the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dr. Chaoulli. Four of the seven justices found that the ban violated the Quebec Charter, but the Court was split (3-3, with one justice abstaining) on whether the law violated the Canadian Charter.

Canada's Globe and Mail reported that "When he [Dr. Chaoulli] undertook the legal battle against the Canada Health Act, the medical establishment largely shunned him." (The Act established funding for Medicare for citizens of all ages.) The article goes on: "Dr. Chaoulli...isn't shy about putting his struggle into grand historic terms. 'I've been in the same situation as Gandhi, where I battled alone without financial help,' he said in an interview. 'Gandhi believed in something and he was alone in believing it. He was punished. No one hit me, but I was stigmatized and humiliated, too.'"

Dr. Chaoulli is clearly a courageous individualist who has defeated the single-payer medical and legal establishment in Canada.

Does Private Health Insurance Destroy Public Health Programs?

The case highlights the fact that most countries with public health-insurance programs do not ban private health insurance. The justices reviewed worldwide evidence in examining the claim that permitting citizens to buy private health insurance would destroy the public health-care system in Canada. Yet clearly this is not so. Consider these excerpts from the majority Court's opinion:

  • "Some witnesses asserted that the emergence of the private sector would lead to a reduction in popular support in the long term because the people who had private insurance would no longer see any utility for the public plan. Dr. Howard Bergman [a Canadian physician] cited an article in his expert report. Dr. Theodore Marmor [an American public-policy expert and strong proponent of the U.S. Medicare system] supported this argument but conceded that he had no way to verify it."

  • "[T]he evidence on the experience of other western democracies with public health care systems that permit access to private health care refutes the government's theory that a prohibition on private health insurance is connected to maintaining quality public health care. It does not appear that private participation leads to the eventual demise of public health care."

  • "After reviewing a number of public health care systems, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology concluded in the Kirby Report that far from undermining public health care, private contributions and insurance improve the breadth and quality of health care for all citizens, and it ultimately concluded, at p. 66: The evidence suggests that a contribution of direct payments by patients, allowing private insurance to cover some services, even in publicly funded hospitals, and an expanded role for the private sector in the delivery of health services are the factors which have enabled countries to achieve broader coverage of health services for all their citizens. Some countries like Australia and Singapore openly encourage private sector participation as a means to ensure affordable and sustainable health services."

  • "In summary, the evidence on the experience of other western democracies refutes the government's theoretical contention that a prohibition on private insurance is linked to maintaining quality public health care."

  • "We conclude that on the evidence adduced in this case, the appellants have established that in the face of delays in treatment that cause psychological and physical suffering, the prohibition on private insurance jeopardizes the right to life, liberty and security of the person of Canadians in an arbitrary manner, and is therefore not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Impact on Health Freedom

How will this case affect the Canadian health-care system and health freedom worldwide? John Williamson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stated, "This is the end of [M]edicare as we know it. This is a breach in government monopoly health care in this country."

In the United States advocates of universal government health insurance will find it more difficult to point to Canada as a model. Opponents of that system will be able to refer to the Chaoulli case and the referenced materials to prove that private health insurance does not destroy public health programs. Instead, it permits citizens to exercise their freedom of choice.

For more information, see:

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Maintaining Americans' National Sovereignty and Access to Dietary Supplements

According to numerous organizations and national policymakers, Americans' freedom to buy dietary supplements could soon be threatened by international regulators. In a paper titled "Summer of '05: Critical Time for Dietary Supplements," Suzan Walter, president of the American Holistic Health Association, explains that the future of dietary supplements may be determined this summer by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex was created in 1963 by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization to set international standards for food quality and safety, and international food trade.

U.S. Reps. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) voiced serious concerns about Codex in a joint statement to Congress in 2001. They stressed that Codex guidelines for international regulations could "force the United States to adopt the same strict regulations of dietary supplements common in European countries such as Germany, where consumers cannot even examine a bottle of dietary supplements without a pharmacist's permission."

Paul and DeFazio continued, "While Codex has no direct authority to force Americans to adopt stringent regulations of dietary supplements, we are concerned that the United States may be forced to adopt Codex standards as a result of the United States' status as a member of the WTO [World Trade Organization]. According to an August 1999 report of the Congressional Research Service, 'As a member of the WTO, the United States does commit to act in accordance with the rules of the multilateral body. It [the United States] is legally obligated to ensure national laws do not conflict with WTO rules.' Thus, Congress may have a legal obligation to again change American laws and regulations to conform with WTO rules!"

They further explain, "If Congress were to refuse to 'harmonize' US laws according to strict Codex/WTO guidelines, a WTO 'dispute resolution panel' could find that the United States is engaging in unfair trade....In any such trade dispute, the scales are tipped in favor of countries using the Codex standards because of WTO rules presuming that a nation who has adopted Codex has not erected an unfair trade barrier. Therefore, in a dispute with a country that has adopted the Codex standards it is highly probable that America would lose and be subject to heavy sanctions unless Congress harmonized our laws with the other WTO countries. Harmonization may be beneficial for the large corporations and international bureaucrats that control the WTO but it would be a disaster for American consumers of dietary supplements!"

The Liberty Committee notes that the WTO has ruled against the United States 80 percent of the time. The Committee points out that if the WTO forces America to adopt the Codex regulations of foods and dietary supplements, the supplements you now take will be available by prescription only and at a much higher cost. The Liberty Committee is urging members of Congress to withdraw the United States from the WTO.

It is important for you to voice your opinion about these matters. Here are links to background information and research resources:

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Health Freedom Watch is published by the Insitute for Health Freedom. Editor: Sue Blevins; Assistant Editor: Deborah Grady. Copyright 2005 Institute for Health Freedom.