Fix Canada’s health care, or it will be lost

Fix Canada’s health care, or it will be lost

The Canadian health care system is broken and desperately needs to be fixed. Wait times are far too long, to the point where patients are dying, and the system costs are far too great.

Free public health defines Canada as much as mounties and beavers. For over a decade, conservatives in Canada have tried to change that, making the case for profit-based medical services. A free enterprise component to health care would make the system more efficient and effective is the claim; and if you have the money, why shouldn’t you be able to buy the best available services?

Left wing advocates and labour unions have been ardent defenders of leaving the system as is, adamant that allowing any for-profit components to health care is a slippery slope that would lead to inequities in the system and see the rich enjoy higher quality medical services. How much money people have (or don’t have) should not determine access to the very best medical care, they say, and separate classes of Canadians would result.

The arguments for a free enterprise layer added to our universal health care system, where certain services or areas of expertise are offered on a fee-for-service basis, seem compelling. Shorter wait times would result for those who can afford it, and that would take pressure off the system for the remainder of Canadian using public health services. The transition would be easy and seamless; after all, it is done now with dentists and plastic surgery clinics.

Of course, if that change were to take place, the problem with a too-expensive, inefficient and ponderously slow public health system would still remain, but that consideration is routinely overlooked.

The debate has raged for over a decade. Throughout that time, the Canadian medical system has grown more and more expensive making the for-profit solution more and more attractive. In spite of the high cost, inefficiencies have accumulated such that wait times continue to lengthen. The situation has gotten so bad that lives are too often at risk because treatment is delayed. Wait times for primary care, specialists, elective surgery and even emergency services are some of the longest in the developed world. The Canadian public is frustrated, often angry.

Governments meanwhile are struggling with the high cost of medicare which can chew up as much as a third of their budgets and they face the expectations of a public demanding more programming in other areas. A solution is universally sought, and the only one that is offered is to allow a broader private sector element within the health care system. The stage is set; conservative plans will almost certainly win the day.

It is a classic situation of left versus right. The government-run solution creeps higher and higher in costs and slows, ever more encumbered due to inefficiencies within the bureaucracy. The public, meanwhile, happily takes advantage of something that is free as much as it can. The alternative offers efficiency and a lower cost solution, but at the expense of principles, particularly universality. At some point the high cost and inefficiency become unbearable and the result is a sacrifice of principles.

Be assured that the current federal government has its sights set on privatizing the Canadian health care system. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear he wants to make Canada a more conservative country. It is just a matter of time before he takes on such “sacred cows” as abortion and medicare and they will go the way of environmental protection – to be pursued when the time is right.

Those who want to maintain a pure universal health care system must realize that Canadian medicare as it now exists is broken and needs to be fixed. A serious critical analysis is required and substantive changes must be made. If this does not happen soon, universal medicare in Canada, as we know it, will perish.

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