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October 9, 2009

Canada Health Care - Part 1

In late September, 2009 I asked my newsletter subscribers that live in Canada to write to me with their positive and negative stories about the Canadian health-care system. Timothy Rigby wrote the following unedited letter:

You requested that your Canadian subscribers let you know what they thought of our medical system, and so I am responding to that request, and have taken the liberty of adding my two cents worth to your discussion occurring in the USA.

Let me start by saying that I am more than a little familiar with the politics and life in our great neighbour to the south. I have a brother who is an American citizen. He lives in Florida. I have two nephews (dual Canadian/American citizens) who are, or were educated in the US (one now pursuing a post graduate degree in California, the other completing medical studies back in Canada, and a daughter who is in ‘pre med’ in a small college in New York State. It is therefore with warm regard and respect that my following comments are directed to those who are involved in the health care debate taking place in your country.

It is my belief that your citizens are being subjected to the same self interested hyperbole and denial of facts that was waged by the tobacco companies when their product was put into question. The medical insurance industry in the US with their HMOs and denial of service is very aware that a “Canadian” style medical insurance system would cost them billions if not trillions of dollars in lost revenue. The US insurance industry is therefore are waging a campaign of lies (I use that word advisedly because I understand the strength of such an accusation) about the quality of care received by Canadians. They find a small unrepresentative number of

Canadians who are willing to get their “15 minutes of fame” by relating stories about how the system has failed them, but never seem to notice the tens of thousands, indeed millions of Canadians, who are alive and well today because of our health care system (check out the comparative statistics for morbidity, longevity and quality of life – you don’t have to take my word for it). To quote sage in the building industry from whom I receive a news letter; “is our current health care system perfect? Heck no. “ I would add for the Canadian system; but it’s kind of like democracy – the worst system in the world except for every other system. You will no doubt get some stories of frustration and failure of the Canadian system, but I think that with 45 million uninsured Americans (larger than the whole population of Canada) there are probably a few heartbreaking stories to be found in your own backyard.

As for stories of failure/success in Canada, let me address for example, the issue of wait times. Because our citizens have come to expect great things from our health-care system they sometimes clog the emergency departments with health issues that could wait for a walk-in clinic or a family physician’s care at a later time. Those people do not get great care in the emergency department and often must wait for several hours before being seen by medical staff. Similarly non-urgent surgery can wait – but you do get the surgery (and still own your home afterward).

What are the medical staff doing while ‘ignoring’ the non-life threatening patients. I can tell you from personal experience that when a surgery or situation needs immediate attention that is what they are doing. I experienced a personal injury – hockey warrior at 50+?? - with a punctured lung from a broken rib and a separated shoulder – I was seen by a specialist and had shoulder repair surgery with in days because although it was not life threatening it was urgent to repair the joint.

Similarly a friend of mine is undergoing his third heart valve replacement. When he walked into the emergency department in distress the triage nurse dropped what she was doing (triaging less urgent patients but still aware of her department) and whisked him into the patient care area where he was admitted immediately for care. In spite of the fact that his body keeps rejecting the valve replacements his 'insurance company' didn’t reject him for care (because the Canadian system is based on need not usage) and the doctors have tried different solutions to his persistent and expensive health problem. He still owns his own home, his children are cared for, his wife is not a widow and he will soon be able to return to work.

Listen up Tim – don’t use the failures of the Canadian medical system to reject making changes in America, which will benefit millions of your citizens who are without health care today. Remember that millions of Canadians are permitted to use the US system anytime they choose but the numbers doing so number only in the thousands or less. That alone speaks to the perceived ‘failure’ of the Canadian system.

In spite of the many accomplishments of your great republic, health care is an area where you are failing your citizens, not because of lack of capacity, obviously, but because you believe the scare mongering of self interested groups who are willing to put their profits ahead of the well being of their fellow citizens. Your system needn’t look like the Canadian system but it certainly doesn’t need to let millions of Americans experience the heartbreak and hardship of your current system. Americans are noted world wide for their generosity toward others, and in spite of the current economic difficulties America remains the wealthiest nation on earth; how about looking for a way to be more generous to your own fellow Americans!

With respect
Tim R.

Ps. I have included links you may be interested in. This video is from a current affairs program in Ontario and presents a more balanced view. You will no doubt find some of the guests support your viewpoint but some also provide a counter point in the discussion. It is an hour long, but well worth the time, especially if you wish to refer to Canada as part of your discussion.

The ‘sick for profit’ link is part of the discussion from your country and contains some strong views in favour of health care reform.

Posted by Tim Carter at October 9, 2009 1:30 PM

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