Monday, August 09, 2004

The Canadian Health We-Don't-Care System

When I made a comment on a post at Jason's Beach Resort blog about the national debt in Canada and the United States, Jason responded with: "I would be interested to know what Sieg Pedde thinks of the Canadian health care system." Being the obliging chap I am, I will do my best.

Here goes:

Some years ago, my arthritic mother required an artificial knee. Her family doctor made a recommendation for surgery. An orthopedic surgeon checked her out, agreed to operate and booked her into hospital. After surgery, she was put up in a lovely retirement home for a week or two for supervision and therapy. The operation and the subsequent care and therapy were all successful. She was able to walk again. The entire process didn't cost us a penny.

I have no idea what the operation might have cost in the United States or elsewhere. No doubt a lot of money.

I'm no dummy. When I stated above that the entire process didn't cost us a penny, I meant that at that specific time no-one sent us an invoice for various services rendered. I do realize, of course, that there is a very real cost for our so-called 'free' health care system, and that cost is two-fold. First, there is the dollar cost in taxes and various levies to support the system. Second, there is a cost that is much more difficult to quantify. Being the stubborn S.O.B. that I am, I will try to do so anyway.

Let's see. Where do we start? What is the cost of losing control over your destiny? When you use a taxpayer-supported, government-controlled system, you do what you're told. You go where you are directed. You take the medicines that are prescribed. A large measure of control is surrendered to the state.

Sometimes, that makes very little difference. If you have an ingrown toenail, it might not matter much to you that you have to wait six weeks (this and all other times used in this post are estimates) to see a podiatrist and another month to have an operation to solve the problem. But what about if you have cancer or need a kidney transplant?

Our healthcare system in Canada is chronically short of money. The best practitioners and specialists leave for greener pastures, usually in the USA. There, they can make more money. There, the government doesn't control how they are paid. There, they don't have caps on what can be charged for visits to the doctor and for various procedures, including operations.

In Ontario, where I live, our new Liberal government, directed by lying Dalton McGinty (he said he wouldn't raise taxes, then when elected he set about breaking that promise) is extorting even more money from us for healthcare. Everyone pays more. Not just the people who use (or abuse) the system regularly. Everyone, even those who rarely see a doctor or a hospital.

Our provinces administer healthcare, but are obliged to follow rules set out by the federal government. The federal rules basically state that visits to doctors (with some exceptions for 'cosmetic' services,) operations, hospital visits, etc., all have to be 'free.' No surcharges and/or user-fees. No, everyone, rich or poor, has to be treated the same. Sounds great, doesn't it?

It stinks. If I am really sick and require immediate attention to a serious problem, I don't want to wait my turn. I want attention NOW. In Canada, I won't get it. That wouldn't be 'fair' to others who are queued in line before me. For the most part, special clinics and hospitals who would cater only to those people willing to pay market prices for services aren't allowed. So, even if I can afford to pay the real cost of service in order to visit a doctor or hospital which would operate completely outside the official government healthcare system, I am not allowed to do so. Such a system would be what is derisively captioned 'two-tier,' and the subtext is that it would benefit the rich. Socialists hate the rich, even though they make it possible for freeloaders to do what they do best -- nothing. So, I have to wait my turn.

I'm not rich. I am comfortably middle class and had to work very, very hard to get where I am. It's just that I prefer to pay my own way, to pay only my own way, and I don't like to be told what I can or cannot do.

To solve the cash shortage, wouldn't it make more sense to charge a nominal fee (say $10) for every visit to a doctor? And perhaps charge $50 per day for every visit to a hospital? Those fees would still be only a fraction of the real cost of service, but they would be affordable. They would be more fair than is the present system, because only actual users of the system would pay the extra fees.

Let's put this all into perspective. I visited a doctor once when I was six (whooping cough,) then again at twenty-two (admission requirement for 'mature student' acceptance at the University of Western Ontario) and then somewhat more often (once per year) as I grew older. I don't really 'need' medical attention more often. I go largely because I pay so much in taxes to support the system that I want to visit a doctor once in a while just to see what I am paying for.

I would much rather pay premiums to an insurance company and get more flexibility in the care I may need in the future. That ain't going to happen here in Canada. Everyone wants 'free' service. Everyone wants to 'soak the rich.' As long as the other guy pays for the bulk of these various 'social benefits,' why rock the boat? Socialists never worry about biting the hand that feeds them. After all, the very real human beings attached to those hands are their slaves and serve them at the point of a gun. The gun is held by government.

I have never had a philosophical problem with helping other, less fortunate people. When asked for money nicely, by charities and public service organizations, I smile and often contribute to their cause. At least I can check to see if my money is being used effectively. I can check to see if my money is being used for a program or service of which I approve.

When ordered to surrender my money via taxes or levies, I snarl, but still contribute. I have no choice in the matter. It's that government gun barrel again. I can see neither whether my money is used effectively, nor can I approve the uses to which it is applied.

I hope I never get seriously ill. If I should, I may show up in the good ol' USA asking for help. And I'll be willing to pay for it.


  1. Whenever I read one of your splendid blogs I wonder why you have never sought public office. I stand corrected. My brain just turned on again and reminded me that there was a time in your past when you were seriously involved in being an active libertarian. Why did you not continue in that direction? You obviously are not that enchanted with what passes as socialism in our country. Whatever occurs, never lose that edge in your critical evaluation of matters most folks seldom ever consider. This was another classic by that old "Atavist" Congratulations.

  2. No matter how bad it gets, in every election year, the politicians will always say that the only solution to the problem is to throw even more money at it.

    And what if I have a health problem such as cancer, that would need medical attention immediately? Once cancer is diagnosed, it needs to be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body. In a system like the one in Canada, I would be told to wait months to be seen by the appropriate specialist. During the time I wait, the cancer spreads to other organs, and by the time the oncologist finally sees me, it's too late. The cancer has already reached the terminal stage. I'm sure similar things happen with other illnesses.

    If the government did not run health care, it would become far less expensive, and much simpler. Sadly, the US is slowly moving toward a government-run system. This is part of the reason why I am getting out of the health care business. Too many laws, too much bureaucracy.

  3. New laws continue to be passed which make it even more difficult to practice medicine. More forms to fill out. More privacy regulations. It just doesn't seem to end.

  4. You nailed it, Jason. We do have incidents in Canada where people die as a result of delays in health care services. Even if a situation only gets worse because it takes so long for a specialist to do a diagnosis or to book an operating room, that's bad enough. To die just so everyone can have 'free' health care is the ultimate sacrifice. I'm not prepared to make it.