Canadians criticize Canadian health care wait times

Judging by a substanceless, profane, and interminable screed from a commenter who waits until his 3rd comment to admit he didn’t actually read what he’s commenting on, Kevin Libin appears to attract critics who fit the median profile of civility found at Daily Kos. Not the extreme Kos Kid, and certainly not any sample from democraticunderground or firedoglake. This is still Canada. A “bloody this” and a “bloody that” go a long way, and nary an f-bomb can be found.

For myself, I found Libin’s article interesting in its demonstration that Canadians have, or should have, legitimate worries about their health care delivery. But, as he points out, any serious debate among politicians in Canada on this topic is verboten: The non-debate on health care

NDP leader Jack Layton, for one, sashayed to Washington in June to inform policy-makers how much more caring Canada’s model is. “Founded on equality,” he boasted, our system “ensures everyone receives good health care,” producing a “better chance in life … and opportunity.” Maybe the Americans believed him, but Canadians – weary of stories of patients suffering while awaiting treatment, unable to work, addicted to painkillers – know better. The week Layton brought to Washington tales of our health-care Eden, came news that B.C.’s MRI waits had grown to nearly a year, as well as a study showing that Canadian patients were dying on lengthy waiting lists for surgery.

Waiting hardly creates more “opportunity.” People stuck in sickened limbo aren’t productive. That’s why Ottawa hires private clinics to get federal employees back to work faster. And why one B.C. notary public not long ago offered cash to anyone willing to swap his 290th spot on his surgeon’s wait list for something sooner: Knee arthritis had him doped on morphine, unable to properly work. Whatever money he saved waiting for our system to deliver him to an OR he’d lost in income and opportunities.

I have included some links to Canadian sources from the comments to Lipin’s article:

Harper treated in Ottawa hospital

Asked whether he [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] had been “whisked” to the front of the line to get medical attention because of his political position, he replied: “I got whisked as much as you can get whisked in our health-care system.”

Of course, the leader of Canada should have been whisked to the front of the queue. It is telling that CBC thinks this is an important question, and an important story. It says: Everyone in Canada knows there is a problem with health care delivery that could (subtext: should/had better) even affect the PM. If he “jumped the queue” it would be political fodder for the opposition. Harper would have been accused of attacking the warp and woof of Canada’s identity. A Parliamentary debate would have ensued as to whether his condition justified any given treatment: Parliament thinks they are paying for it, after all.

How much is your health worth to the bottomline?

It doesn’t matter who you are or how important your health is to your company. With a physician shortage as severe as the one in Ottawa, the hard fact is, without a family doctor, the only option are waiting two hours or more for an over-worked walk-in clinic physician who might only allow one health inquiry per visit, or going to emergency.

A report released by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario late last month revealed only 4.1 per cent of doctors in eastern Ontario are accepting new patients. This can be a scary situation for those who transfer to the Ottawa region.

It is no surprise that private industry has stepped up to fill the void for those willing to pay the price.

Ronald Bannerman, 61, knows the price is worth it from personal experience. As the vice-president of corporate affairs at MD Management, the financial membership services subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association, he signed on when his firm introduced the ExecHealth program for senior management personnel last summer. ExecHealth is an Ottawa-based private clinic which serves as a one-stop shop for preventive care.

… The $1,295 half-day assessments are designed for early detection and prevention of diseases such as cancer and heart disease by a team of medical doctors, nutritionists, nurses, physiotherapists and fitness experts. Clients are provided with a written health report which includes meal planning and personal training sessions.

President of ExecHealth Inc., Sanjay Shah said the services offered by ExecHealth since 2005 are not new, just new to the Ottawa area.

“Our model has been around for decades. But in the past, Ottawa has been too small to have a clinic like this. There are national law firms here who have this benefit for their partners, but the Ottawa-based partners couldn’t take advantage of it because they have to travel to Toronto or Montreal to get it,” Mr. Shah explained.

There is much to mine from this article, but I will make just one observation: It is entirely possible that the reason the Ottawa area could not support such a private clinic is competition from the government plan.

I jumped the queue: top doctor

When his five-year-old daughter’s bone scan revealed a tumour that might be cancerous, the man who is now president of the Canadian Medical Association decided to jump the queue.

His wife, also a doctor, had taken their daughter into the emergency room of a Vancouver hospital after the little girl experienced a sudden pain in her leg, Dr. Brian Day recalled. The initial bone scan indicated a tumour, but couldn’t reveal whether or not it was cancerous.

“The hospital said, ‘We’ll do a CT scan, bring her back next week,'” Dr. Day said. “To me, it’s completely unacceptable, sending a mother home for six days not knowing whether her daughter has a malignant or a benign bone tumour. I made the phone call … I made them do it that day.”

Dr. Day’s experience is one example of what he calls the “parallel public system,” a system of social connections that make it easier for people in a certain class of society to get quick access to medical treatment.

He admits that he himself used the system when he needed knee surgery, jumping a long queue to get the procedure done within a week by a surgeon who was also his friend.

…”Fifty per cent of newly-trained orthopedic surgeons leave the country within five years because they can’t get operating time … (It’s) our system, the way the hospital is funded, where the patient is a cost, not a value,” he said. “The instant you tell hospitals you’re going to get revenue for treating patients, they’re going to start treating patients.”

Since the Ted Kennedy version of the health care bill now worming its way through the House and Senate preserves the platinum-standard health care plan for members of Congress by specifically exempting those members from the health care they want to “give” to the rest of us, I’d say the Senator is intent on retaining the US version of the “parallel public system.”

Look, Canada’s health care system is a concern to Americans only to the extent some Americans, and Jack Layton, hold it out as an example of the benefits of nationalizing health care without acknowledging, and even actively denying, the drawbacks. Average Canadians hear Americans criticizing their heath care system and mostly don’t like to hear it. I don’t blame them.

It does bear repeating that I am not saying the US system is perfect or does not need change. It needs to be completely privatized. In such a case, I think taxing it as any other employer supplied benefit is a good idea, it will get employers out of the health care business. IIRC, John McCain was excoriated for proposing this, along with some offsetting tax credits, last year. Barack Obama said it was entirely off the table.

“McCain would make you pay taxes on your health benefits, taxing your health care for the first time ever, raising costs for employers who offer health care so your coverage could be reduced or dropped completely. You won’t find one word about it on his website.”

…He called McCain’s plan “so radical, so out of touch with what you’re facing, and so out of line with our basic values.”

New table, I guess.

Oh, such taxation is off the table for Unions:

Union members serving under collective bargaining agreements would be exempt, even though they often have the richest and most extensive packages of benefits. Union officials have told Democratic leaders of Congress that because collective bargaining agreements can last several years, they should be exempt from any tax because contracts can’t be changed quickly enough to avoid it.

It sounds like these contracts are supposed to have some force of law behind them, but I don’t get why that’s a barrier. When the secured creditors at Chrysler and GM were screwed in favor of the UAW, contracts didn’t matter.

Besides, if the Unions were willing to change the contracts it could easily be done in 60 days. If not, we could have compulsory arbitration, just what the Unions say is a good idea in the case of card check.

IAC, I hope we can soon stop paying attention to Canada’s health care system, because nationalization of US health care will have been defeated again.

2 thoughts on “Canadians criticize Canadian health care wait times”

  1. Interesting stories, especially the one about Dr. Day. I sometimes wonder if all this is caused by one thing, not enough staff. I know we are short of doctors but is it that bad? Does everything have to take so long? Or maybe we're just a one very sick nation…Take care, Lorne