The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, July 30, 2007
Canadian-style Health Care in three words: Prohibitively Expensive Disaster
There is much more; read the entire article here--especially if you think Socialist Medicine in the US is anything but "Sicko". Like everything else having to do with the practical application of Karl Marx, it may sound great on paper but it is a disaster in practice. Methinks we have enough problems in this country already without adding this monstrosity.
But if Canadians are looking to the United States for the care they need, Americans, ironically, are increasingly looking north for a viable health-care model. There’s no question that American health care, a mixture of private insurance and public programs, is a mess. Over the last five years, health-insurance premiums have more than doubled, leaving firms like General Motors on the brink of bankruptcy. Expensive health care has also hit workers in the pocketbook: it’s one of the reasons that median family income fell between 2000 and 2005 (despite a rise in overall labor costs). Health spending has surged past 16 percent of GDP. The number of uninsured Americans has risen, and even the insured seem dissatisfied. So it’s not surprising that some Americans think that solving the nation’s health-care woes may require adopting a Canadian-style single-payer system, in which the government finances and provides the care. Canadians, the seductive single-payer tune goes, not only spend less on health care; their health outcomes are better, too—life expectancy is longer, infant mortality lower.
I was once a believer in socialized medicine. I don’t want to overstate my case: growing up in Canada, I didn’t spend much time contemplating the nuances of health economics. I wanted to get into medical school—my mind brimmed with statistics on MCAT scores and admissions rates, not health spending. But as a Canadian, I had soaked up three things from my environment: a love of ice hockey; an ability to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit in my head; and the belief that government-run health care was truly compassionate. What I knew about American health care was unappealing: high expenses and lots of uninsured people. When HillaryCare shook Washington, I remember thinking that the Clintonistas were right.
My health-care prejudices crumbled not in the classroom but on the way to one. On a subzero Winnipeg morning in 1997, I cut across the hospital emergency room to shave a few minutes off my frigid commute. Swinging open the door, I stepped into a nightmare: the ER overflowed with elderly people on stretchers, waiting for admission. Some, it turned out, had waited five days. The air stank with sweat and urine. Right then, I began to reconsider everything that I thought I knew about Canadian health care. I soon discovered that the problems went well beyond overcrowded ERs. Patients had to wait for practically any diagnostic test or procedure, such as the man with persistent pain from a hernia operation whom we referred to a pain clinic—with a three-year wait list; or the woman needing a sleep study to diagnose what seemed like sleep apnea, who faced a two-year delay; or the woman with breast cancer who needed to wait four months for radiation therapy, when the standard of care was four weeks.
I decided to write about what I saw. By day, I attended classes and visited patients; at night, I worked on a book. Unfortunately, statistics on Canadian health care’s weaknesses were hard to come by, and even finding people willing to criticize the system was difficult, such was the emotional support that it then enjoyed. One family friend, diagnosed with cancer, was told to wait for potentially lifesaving chemotherapy. I called to see if I could write about his plight. Worried about repercussions, he asked me to change his name. A bit later, he asked if I could change his sex in the story, and maybe his town. Finally, he asked if I could change the illness, too.
My book’s thesis was simple: to contain rising costs, government-run health-care systems invariably restrict the health-care supply. Thus, at a time when Canada’s population was aging and needed more care, not less, cost-crunching bureaucrats had reduced the size of medical school classes, shuttered hospitals, and capped physician fees, resulting in hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for needed treatment—patients who suffered and, in some cases, died from the delays. The only solution, I concluded, was to move away from government command-and-control structures and toward a more market-oriented system. To capture Canadian health care’s growing crisis, I called my book Code Blue, the term used when a patient’s heart stops and hospital staff must leap into action to save him. Though I had a hard time finding a Canadian publisher, the book eventually came out in 1999 from a small imprint; it struck a nerve, going through five printings.
Rick Baker helps people, and sometimes even saves lives. He describes a man who had a seizure and received a diagnosis of epilepsy. Dissatisfied with the opinion—he had no family history of epilepsy, but he did have constant headaches and nausea, which aren’t usually seen in the disorder—the man requested an MRI. The government told him that the wait would be four and a half months. So he went to Baker, who arranged to have the MRI done within 24 hours—and who, after the test discovered a brain tumor, arranged surgery within a few weeks.
Baker isn’t a neurosurgeon or even a doctor. He’s a medical broker, one member of a private sector that is rushing in to address the inadequacies of Canada’s government care. Canadians pay him to set up surgical procedures, diagnostic tests, and specialist consultations, privately and quickly. “I don’t have a medical background. I just have some common sense,” he explains. “I don’t need to be a doctor for what I do. I’m just expediting care.”
He tells me stories of other people whom his British Columbia–based company, Timely Medical Alternatives, has helped—people like the elderly woman who needed vascular surgery for a major artery in her abdomen and was promised prompt care by one of the most senior bureaucrats in the government, who never called back. “Her doctor told her she’s going to die,” Baker remembers. So Timely got her surgery in a couple of days, in Washington State. Then there was the eight-year-old badly in need of a procedure to help correct her deafness. After watching her surgery get bumped three times, her parents called Timely. She’s now back at school, her hearing partly restored. “The father said, ‘Mr. Baker, my wife and I are in agreement that your star shines the brightest in our heaven,’ ” Baker recalls. “I told that story to a government official. He shrugged. He couldn’t f***ing care less.”
Canadian doctors, long silent on the health-care system’s problems, are starting to speak up. Last August, they voted Brian Day president of their national association. A former socialist who counts Fidel Castro as a personal acquaintance, Day has nevertheless become perhaps the most vocal critic of Canadian public health care, having opened his own private surgery center as a remedy for long waiting lists and then challenged the government to shut him down. “This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week,” he fumed to the New York Times, “and in which humans can wait two to three years.”
This post has been a public service for anyone even considering voting for a Democrat next year.