Yet another patient appears on Global TV News unable to get an expensive prescription drug reimbursed by the Ontario provincial government, and the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care responds that the provinces and territories are working together to negotiate with manufacturers to get the best possible prices for drugs. What no one gets to know is precisely how thats happening or how quickly, leaving us all in the dark about access to a vital component of modern medical care.
Waiting has become a defining characteristic of the Canadian health care experience. Patients stricken with illness, from mild to serious, must wait their turn for access to emergency care, family doctors, medical specialists, diagnostic scans, and treatment.
These delays, which can be quite substantial, impose needless costs on Canadians in terms of their economic, social, and mental well-being and can lead to less-desirable health care outcomes. Fortunately, this serious health care problem can be readily solved through policy reforms based on European successes.
One irony of Canadian life is that the most economically free province in the country, Alberta, often has government policy that is the most hostile to private health care. Another irony, this time right across Canada, is that one can spend any amount of money on a basic necessity of life such as food. But when Canadians want to use their own money to purchase medical treatment to improve, prolong, or even save that same life, they are legally prevented from doing so.
In most places, if you spend more, you receive more in goods or services. The glaring exception is Canada's government-run health care system.
The season finale of the popular U.S. drama Breaking Bad brought with it renewed interest in a viral internet meme that implicitly suggested that the entire story might not have taken place had the main character, Walter White, lived in Canada. The meme suggests that within minutes of being diagnosed with cancer, Walt's "free" treatments would begin the very next week.
Many Canadians and commentators in other countries lauding Canada's government-dominated approach to health care refer to Canadian health care as "free." If healthcare actually was free, the relatively poor performance of the health care system might not seem all that bad. But the reality is that the Canadian health care system is not free in fact, Canadian families pay heavily for healthcare through the tax system. That high price paints the long wait times and lack of medical technologies in Canada in a very different light.
Get ready for Medicares annual summer slowdown, where the forecast calls for possibly poorer than usual service levels.
Every year, provincial health care systems across Canada dutifully reduce the volume of services they provide in preparation for the summer vacation season. This planned-for reduction has the inevitable effect of lengthening waiting times for Canadians over the summer months (and during Christmas holidays). The added twist this year is the slowdowns might be extended in a bid to reduce expenditures.
For many Canadians, the Victoria Day long weekend marks the beginning of summertime holiday planning, if not a late May escape after a long winter. For those who travel outside of the country in the coming months, we have a modest proposal: find a pub, sit down with locals and ask about their nations health care system.