Some health-care myths debunked

Stephen Skyvington
July 26, 2012 I’ve been intimately involved in health care since the spring of 1995, when I first came to work for the Ontario Medical Association. And although you could have fit my knowledge about health care into a small syringe when I first started at the OMA, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on our health-care system thanks to the ringside seat I’ve occupied during the past 15-plus years — first with the OMA and since 2001, working with a number of healthcare organizations and businesses as owner of my own public relations firm. So let’s take a look at — and hopefully debunk — what I consider to be some of the biggest myths surrounding our health-care system. Myth 1 — Canada has a health-care system. Perhaps the biggest myth of all is the first one, namely that Canada has a health-care “system.” We, in fact, do not have a health-care system. We have an insurance scheme — and a badly run insurance scheme at that. Canadians have been led to believe — mostly by politicians, sometimes by bureaucrats, and occasionally by the media — that we have the best health-care system in the world, a system that will always be there for us when we need it, that we can access anytime, day or night, for free — all without having to worry about going into debt or declaring bankruptcy to pay for it. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, not a word of it is true. Because our health-care system is in reality an insurance scheme, the care we receive is severely rationed — not by the size of your bank account or credit card like in the U.S., but by the length of time you and your loved ones will have to wait to see a doctor and then receive the appropriate treatment. Don’t believe me? I just spent 14 months waiting for heart surgery. Had I died while on the waiting list (which almost happened, by the way), government bureaucrats would’ve seen that as a good thing because the waiting list would naturally have grown shorter for someone else. The fact that I’d died would’ve been irrelevant because in our health-care “system” we don’t consider outcomes (i.e. did I live or die or get better?) we only care about the cost. Myth 2 — Health-care in Canada is free.
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Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you that one of the best things about living in Canada is that health care is free. If only that were true. In fact, health care in Canada is not only not free, it’s actually pretty damned expensive. Sadly, politicians at every level of government, all across our land, have perpetrated the myth that our healthcare system is free simply because we don’t have to pay anything for it — we just have to show our health card. So it’s not surprising that most Canadians simply shrug their shoulders and say, “If it’s free, it’s for me” when it comes to health care. The reality, of course, is far different. Our taxes pay for our health-care system — although only 70 per cent of it. A full 30 per cent of our health-care costs — things such as dental care, physiotherapy and prescriptions — are either covered by private insurers or out of our own pockets. Which is kind of ironic when you stop to think about the rhetoric and outrage generated whenever someone suggests that the solution to our health-care problems is to allow for the private sector to become more involved. Myth 3 — We only have one tier of health care in Canada. There are, in reality, several tiers of health care available in Canada — some above board, paid for by the government, and still others operating below the radar. In addition to the tier most of us use on either a regular or irregular basis — the so-called “free” tier — there are other separate tiers for injured workers (in Ontario, the WSIB), military personnel, high-ranking executives with private health plans, professional athletes, doctors, friends of doctors, and, yes, even politicians. In fact, there are so many different tiers of health care floating around out there — both legal and illegal — you’d need a prescription to help you keep them all straight. Not to mention the tier that few people, if any, know about — the tier where pets and other animals get MRIs at hospitals during off hours, mostly nights and weekends (and no, I’m not making this up). And, of course, the “medical tourism” tier — where people come from other countries and pay for health-care treatments and procedures they receive right here in Canada. Or the “doctors’ dirty little secret” tier — where Canadian physicians are recruited by rich, wealthy businessmen in foreign countries (typically Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries) to travel overseas and provide their highly-sought-after services — usually for cash — all while supposedly enjoying a vacation. So I guess it’s lucky for us we only have one tier of health care in Canada. I’d hate to think how many tiers we’d have if we opened things up a bit. Myth 4 — If you’re in favour of private health care, you’re not a true, patriotic Canadian.

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Haven’t we all had just about enough of politicians of every political stripe claiming they are the only defenders of our health-care system? Time and time again — especially during election campaigns — we hear them attacking and vilifying those brave enough and visionary enough to suggest that our current system is unsustainable unless we come up with a made-in-Canada solution that embraces some form of private health care. I swear some of them are even starting to believe their own B.S. The fact is patriotism and health care have nothing to do with one another. Nor is private health care the “third rail” of Canadian politics — another myth politicians and their handlers like to perpetuate. They just want you to believe that because it saves them from having to talk about health care in a mature, adult manner and offering up real, viable solutions to a serious social problem. Instead of wrapping themselves in the flag every time an election rolls around, perhaps our political leaders might actually try being honest with the Canadian people for a change and admit the truth — namely that our current patchwork health-care system doesn’t work, hasn’t worked for a long, long time, and is in need of some serious, radical surgery. Now that would be refreshing. Myth 5 — The status quo is just fine. The best way to ensure Canada ends up with a U.S.-style two-tier health-care system? Do nothing. That’s right, the best way to end up with what we all say we don’t want is to simply embrace the status quo. By making no substantive changes to the way government funds and runs health care in this country — and by not allowing some form of private health care as a safety valve — the sad truth is that we are doomed as Canadians to see our beloved health-care system collapse under its own weight. Why? Simply because by 2025, provincial governments will be spending 100 per cent of their budgets on health care. Don’t want to have private health care in Canada? No problem. We’ll just privatize everything else. Imagine, if you will, every school a private school, every road a toll road, every service you rely on government to deliver either axed or heavily subsidized — in all likelihood to the tune of 100 per cent — by you. That’s what the future holds if we continue to keep our collective heads buried in the sand. Clearly, the time has come to get real about health care and the role the private sector can play in its delivery.
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We owe it to Tommy Douglas, Emmett Hall and Monique Bégin. We also owe it to ourselves and all those future generations of Canadians who will someday inherit this mess if we don’t do something about it now. Stephen Skyvington is the president of PoliTrain Inc., and the former manager of government relations for the Ontario Medical Association. Email: politrain@sympatico.ca
This article is for personal use only courtesy of TheSpec.com - a division of Metroland Media Group Ltd.

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