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Canada – A Health Care Utopia?

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.
         Milton Friedman

Imagine being told by your doctor that you are too young for a knee replacement or even worse, waiting so long for bariatric surgery that you die. If you think this could never happen, think again. In the Canadian single-payer health care system, people languish and sometimes die on wait lists because government rations – or caps – the amount of health care it supplies. Government health care cheerleaders — take note.

The Canadian government rations heath care supply because health care services cost money – the less health care the government scheme provides, the less tax government has to collect. When government is the monopoly health care provider and single payer of what people believe to be a ‘free’ service, government must find a balance between providing enough health care to barely satisfy the majority, and raising taxes.

The government works to keep the cost of health care down, but what about the cost of waiting and perhaps dying to the individual patient? A Statistics Canada report in 2005 showed that between 25 and 33 percent of patients waiting for care said their lives were affected negatively. This includes everything from losing income to losing mobility.

Suffering is one thing, but dying is something else altogether. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the wait time for bariatric surgery, surgery that helps morbidly obese people lose weight, in British Columbia is four years. In 2007, at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, 12 patients died while on the waiting list for this surgery.

According to a Fraser Institute report, Wait your Turn—2014, the median wait time from an appointment with a specialist to treatment for orthopedic surgery in British Columbia is 23.3 weeks, compared to what specialists consider a clinically “reasonable wait time” of 12.7 weeks. But wait! There was a median 18.9 week wait between the referral from your doctor to the appointment with a specialist. This means that from the time you first go to your doctor and finally have the operation, you’ve waited, on average, 42.4 weeks, or 10 and a half months – almost a year!

But that’s only if you can actually get surgery. What happens when you can’t?

In a discussion with one of my very active 60-year-old friends in Canada who had recently hurt his knee, he said the specialist told him he was too young for a knee replacement. If he had a knee replacement now, it would wear out before he died so would need another one. Seems in health care utopia, you can only have one knee replacement.

He asked his doctor what was he supposed to do? Change your lifestyle, the doctor told him. But I don’t want to change my lifestyle, he said. Oh, the doctor said.

This friend had been, until it affected him personally, a great booster of the benefits of Canada’s socialist health care scheme. But when he suddenly faced Canadian health care reality, he looked both to private surgery centers in British Columbia and at coming to the U.S. for a knee replacement.

Seems that for some people, what’s good for the goose isn’t so good for the gander. It’s OK for other people to languish and perhaps die on wait lists, or at the very least go from being an active person to a couch potato, but not him.

Let’s hope he doesn’t become morbidly obese from all this sitting around and then have to wait, and perhaps die waiting, for bariatric surgery.

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Tuesday, 26 September 2017
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