Universal undefined’s ability to provide state of the art care has already substantially eroded. In particular, access to timely care has become an embarrassment in Canada compared to countries similar to our own.
So why can’t Canadians spend their own money on their health for medically necessary services?
Canada keeps heady company with Cuba and North Korea in banning the private sector from healthcare.
A lot has changed since Tommy Douglas introduced universal healthcare in 1962, which is considered sacrosanct in Canada.
But our gift to the world now looks more like our curse.
To not even consider alternatives to the clearly unsatisfactory status quo in 2017 does a great disservice to those who are actually sick.
The rest of the world has caught on that a single payer system does not work given 21st century technological and economic realities.
Medical science has been advancing at an exponential rate. Public finances can no longer keep up.
This is not some distant, dystopian future. It’s happening now.
For example, the wait list for joint replacements in Ontario is one to two years.
Princess Margaret Hospital cannot accept more patients in need of life-saving stem cell transplants, as it has run out of funding.
Just wait until the system has to bear the brunt of the huge, and aging, baby boomer population.
The argument that having both private and publicly funded systems would benefit the wealthy and marginalize the poor is based on fear.
Indeed, the fear of adopting U.S. style healthcare, both pre- and post-Obama, is what makes serious reform the third rail in Canadian politics.
But the American healthcare system is bogged down in bureaucracy, optimized to make money for insurance companies, big pharma, hospitals, even lawyers.
No one is seriously advocating that Canada adopt the U.S. model.
But there are many European countries with a blended system of public and private healthcare that cost less than ours and produces better medical outcomes.
Private healthcare can be regulated and taxed to benefit the public system.
Consider an example where a patient wants a hip replacement done within days instead of months or years.
This could be provided for the cost of a Macbook or upscale television set — roughly $2000.
The patient could be taxed $500 on top of this to go towards funding the public side of healthcare.
Ultimately, finances for both public and private systems would grow and wait times would drop.
The idea we should all have equal access, meaning long wait times for everyone, holds us back from implementing reforms where everyone would win compared to the status quo.
Or we can continue with the status quo, where healthcare consumes 42% of all provincial program spending and rising.
Government rhetoric about how things are great for patients in Canada, stands in stark contrast with the experiences of frontline healthcare providers.
Somebody isn’t telling you the truth.
Public healthcare is sinking, while the government tries to putty the leaks. We need a better solution.
Faced with fiscal realities, the division of medically necessary healthcare into public and private components is inevitable.
The question is, are we going to wait until the public healthcare system is completely overwhelmed before we make meaningful changes? Until it takes 10 hours on average to see an ER doctor? Until people are dying in pain, with no one to care for them?
Because without major healthcare reform, that will come soon enough.
–Mark D’Souza, MD CCFP (EM), is an emergency room doctor at Humber River Hospital.