Universal Health Care Does Not End Suffering - It Redistributes It

Shona Holmes | January 20, 2014 | 4:04pm EST
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Over the past five years I have been sharing my very personal journey of Canadian health care in hopes to help open the doors of communication between the powers that be and the American public so that the message stays on access to healthcare not access to health insurance.

According to a new survey, Canada ranks last among 11 OECD countries in the latest survey on how quickly Canadians can actually get to see their family physicians. This is a growing problem in our government run healthcare system which forces more and more people into waiting rooms of local emergency departments.

Right now in Canada we have the same percentage of people without family doctors (the gateway to health care) as Americans that are uninsured. What do our citizens without family doctors do? They go to the emergency room in hopes for treatment.

Just what is the anatomy of a wait time?  Many people have developed the idea that we have a shortage of doctors possibly due to population.  Quite often people hear that the threat with is that doctors will just stop seeing patients, or they will opt for another field, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of doctors and giving the public the idea that they are just money hungry.

But in Canada our doctors salaries are capped and the government determines just how much money they can make each and every year.  From that salary, they are expected to stick to a pay schedule, run their offices, employ staff, and insure themselves against negligence.   When they reach their quota, they stop seeing patients. The number of doctors is controlled by these same practices, so competition is just unheard of.   Hospital budgets allow for only so many operating hours for surgeons, and only so many dollars are allocated towards procedure. So what if you are 36th on the list for a procedure that is budgeted for only 12 times per year in a hospital? See you in 3 years.

If you're feeling lucky, there are options are for you. Some physicians hold lotteries for open spots in their practice for a new patient, or they do intake interviews to determine if you are the type of patient they want. Cancer drugs are not prescribed due to effectiveness but by zip code alone.  It is reported that where you live does matter in your ability to get health care.  Does this sound like the promises made to the American public with regards to the Affordable Care Act?

Or does it sound too similar to "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period."?  Good luck with that.

In a system such as Canada's, the government's role is to set budgets and stick to them. Every single person in Canada is covered by the same insurance plan, regardless of your economic situation, employment status, or citizenship. If the government insurance chooses to cover or not cover a treatment or determines if that treatment is available, that's the end of the story.  There are no private hospitals offering treatments that the government hasn't approved.  It is no longer just the wealthiest of people who flee over the border for care; it is now just the desperate.

Universal health care does not end the suffering - it redistributes it so that the rich man's son has the exact same opportunity to suffer as the poor man's son. Without question, Obamacare will only mirror this restricted access to care.

As many of America's top hospitals are no longer covered by most plans and they start their layoffs, the public will quickly be divided by who is lucky enough to receive care and who will wait. The opportunity to go to places like the Mayo Clinic, or the Cleveland clinic, or even specialized cancer treatment centres will be a thing of the past for the average American.

So why does Canada matter? Because as your neighbours, we use your system as a safety valve when we are so desperate for care and are cruelly faced with inhumane wait times. This is not the system that Americans strive for. But inevitably it is heading your way. As the pressure mounts on any such government program, the answers are usually one of two solutions: increase taxes, and/or reduce services.

Some things that many Americans do not understand about our health insurance program is the things that it does not cover-it no longer covers things like Dental care, Vision, Prescription Drugs, Physiotherapy, Preventive care -  just to name a few. Yes you will hear how the ACA will allow people to go to their primary care physician for preventive care which will reduce costs and lesson the burden on emergency rooms. In theory it is wonderful but in reality, it doesn't work.

Simply put, Canada's health care system has let its people down-and many of them are grateful for having the option of turning to the U.S. system.  More than 40,000 of my fellow citizens have done so this past year.  Faced with long waiting lists for surgeries and other essential services, they have grown accustomed to availing themselves of the best medical system in the world.

The president may be frustrated that Americans have had to wait to get online at  But when it comes to waiting and health care, it's only going to get worse.  Believe me, I am Canadian-I should know.  Waiting is what Canadians do best.

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