Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dr. Carolyn Bennett sets the record straight for the U.S. Senate

I was fortunate enough to hear Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett speak on health care and social infrastructure at a town hall forum here in Milton last week. I was tremendously impressed with her passion and her depth of knowledge and understanding on these issues.

So I was thrilled to hear that Dr. Bennett was in Washington this week testifying before the Special Senate Committee on Aging, explaining how the Canadian health care system works and how we manage equal or better outcomes than the U.S. while spending nearly a third less per capita.

Carolyn Bennett

Why Dr. Bennett was there and not our current Health Minister is a separate question.

There was a rather entertaining exchange between Dr. Bennett and Sen. Bob Corker in which Corker accused Canada and other countries of being "parasites" on U.S. pharmaceutical R&D:

"One of the things that has troubled me greatly about our system is the fact that we pay more for pharmaceuticals and devices than other countries, and yet it's not really our country so much that's the problem, it's the parasitic relationship that Canada and France and other countries have towards us," the Tennessee lawmaker told Carolyn Bennett.

"Meaning that you set prices and unfortunately all the innovation, all the technological breakthroughs, just about, take place in our country ... you benefit from us and we pay for that and I resent that."

...[Bennett] seemed puzzled by Corker's remarks, reminding him that drug pricing was a global concern, not something limited to Canada.

"It's the drug companies, sir, and they're multi-national -- it's nothing about the United States of America," Bennett told him.

Aside from the offensiveness of Corker's assumption that all the great medical innovations happen in the U.S. (uh... insulin? stem cells? remote surgery?), perhaps someone should remind Mr. Corker that the profit incentive in the U.S. system has meant that the vast bulk of R&D investment there goes towards drugs and procedures that serve the fat and wealthy West (Lipitor, Viagra, heartburn remedies, MRIs, gastric bypass) and nearly nothing towards treatments for the things that actually kill the most people in the world, like malaria, diarrhea and TB.

Video of the hearing can be found on the Committee viewer. Dr. Bennett starts her opening remarks at 41:06; questions start at 65:50, with her exchange with Sen. Corker at 71:55.

(I love what she's wearing, too!)

(cross-posted from Canada's World)


  1. She was awesome in QP today as well, blasted the ideology of the Con mindset. She was frustrated with the stupidity she encountered with Corker and it showed today she feels the same towards Harper. She's an easy read in terms of facial expressions. (I loved what she was wearing as well)

  2. I think that Bennett's response to Corker was very weak and uninformed. She needed to hit back hard on the subject of who does "innovative" research in the U.S. -- usually publicly funded researchers in universities or dedicated research institutions -- who are then free (because of legislation passed by guys like Corker) to patent their publicly funded discoveries and sell them to Big Pharma, thus making themselves and the pharma companies rich at the expense of the citizens (taxpayers). It is a fraudulent lie that pharmaceutical companies do most of the innovative research, and Bennett was just not well enough prepared to make that point.

    Google Marcia Angell, and read everything she writes. Bennett might try that before she travels to Washington again.

  3. She may get a little tongue-tied in her excitement, but I can tell you that she is certainly not uninformed.  She wasn't sayng that the pharma companies do the research - just that they set the prices.

    She could have chosen to make the other arguments you mentioned and perhaps she should have, but she wasn't there to play an adversarial role and she had very limited time to respond.