From One Who Knows: Universal Health (s)Care

Universal Health Care. What better way to show the masses how much the government cares? It’s Obama’s showpiece legislation and Canada’s favourite sacred cow. You’ve heard the arguments for it. But before following Canada down this road, hear a word of warning.

Having experienced both systems, I’ve seen how each country has misconceptions about the other. Canadians shouldn’t think an American ER would turn you away if your credit card was maxed-out, and Americans shouldn’t take the phrase “Universal Health Care” at face value, either.

“Universal” is incorrect on two levels. Canada does not have a centralized, Soviet-style command-economy health care system. (*cough* Obamacare *cough*) Instead, each province is responsible for setting its own medical spending priorities, in a way similar to the American Tenth Amendment.

“Universal” also falsely gives the impression that all procedures for all people are covered. Not so. There are many limitations on which procedures are actually available. Dental, for example, is not covered at all. Where I live, chiropractic, physiotherapy, and routine eye exams were covered, but no longer. The Liberal(!) Premier de-listed these because we ran out of money to provide them. (He also charged families a “Health Care Premium”, claiming it wasn’t a tax, until the courts ruled otherwise … sound familiar?) Our chronic doctor shortages — particularly Internal Medicine — will only worsen as more doctors retire.

When you Nationalize something (the road I believe Obamacare has started you down) certain hazards come with the transition from a Free-Market to a Government-Administered system.

There is a loss of responsiveness and flexibility. If a private business owner is losing money on every transaction, he will adjust prices to cover costs — or, introduce additional services with a better profit margin to offset losses. When losing market share to a competitor, he will innovate: improve his product, equipment, services or pricing, to better attract the customers. His drive to succeed will indirectly benefit the public. The best and most successful operations will expand, offering greater service to more people in more locations.

So, in your experience, is this what happens with Government-run operations? Would you want the people who operate the DMV, DoT, or DoJ run your hospitals?

The obvious objection (heard frequently here) is that profit-based systems are run by (gasp!) businessmen. And we’ve seen enough movies to know that businessmen are cold-hearted, steel-eyed, tight-fisted cutthroats who generally sell out their mothers for a nickel — right?

This argument fails to realize that businesses are run by people. Any aspect of life involving people and their personalities, has the potential for corruption, incompetence, or raw stupidity — public and private sectors alike. (“Fast and Furious” anyone?) But the potential for damage in the private sector is limited by this: customers can go elsewhere, unresponsive operators will eventually close shop. But when public-sector agencies run out of money, they ask the government (read: taxpayer) for more money. Management errors are invariably perpetuated and magnified.

Still on the topic of money, if Obama achieves that one-payer model, remember this: If health care dollars are drawn from the same pool that every other government project fights over, you politicize health care. Period.

This is why, in Canada, abortions and gender reassignment are covered, but physiotherapy and routine eye exams are not. This is also why we lack hospital beds, especially long-term beds while we spend big on pet projects like wind farms. Cynics might call this a passive version of the much-discussed “death panels”.

By shifting health care to a government service, hospitals and clinics are forced to fight for a piece of that same pie that infrastructure, law enforcement, education, environmental impact statements, welfare, and free needles for addicts (but not Diabetics) and all the rest battle over.

The whole “free” thing is a misnomer, too. (1) We’re paying more and more each year for fewer and fewer available services, but we don’t see that because it’s buried among our other taxes. Health care and education costs are always the two largest expenses for a province. Forget things like PET scans, (where Ontario only funds 6 scans / 10,000 people / year.) Now we are gradually losing access to things like X-rays (2) and MRI, which can be arbitrarily deemed by a bureaucrat to be “medically unnecessary”, and bouncing the bill back to the doctor. Will that affect care? Diagnosis? How could it not?

There are life-saving treatments available only in the US that our “coverage” will not fund. The cutting-edge treatments are mysteriously unavailable in our “better” Canadian health care system, but our compassionate government often will not foot the bill if we go South to get the treatment we cannot get at home.

I’ve run out of room to discuss specific instances. Suffice to say that a relative stricken in Miami with a very aggressive cancer had two MRI’s within a week, allowing him to get life-extending treatment. In Canada he’d have been inoperable, possibly dead, before he’d been diagnosed. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, a man had his thyroid removed (cancer) and didn’t even see an endocrinologist for months. Anecdotal? Of course. But the kind of story told over and over again.

Is the template that gave the Russian people breadlines in the Soviet era, the one you really want to base your health care system on, Comrade?

Image: courtesy of http://www.archive.org/details/ExcerptsFromThePhotoplayTheBrideOf
Frankenstein1935; author trailer screenshot, from DVD Bride of Frankenstein, Universal 2004; public domain.

Wes Walker

About the author, Wes Walker: Wes Walker is the author of "Blueprint For a Government that Doesn't Suck". He has been lighting up Clashdaily.com since its inception in July of 2012. Follow on twitter: @Republicanuck View all articles by Wes Walker

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