Canadian Health Care

 Posted by on 20 March 2005 at 8:00 am  Health Care
Mar 202005

This recent article on Canadian health care shows how badly things have deteriorated. Some choice excerpts:

A letter from the Moncton Hospital to a New Brunswick heart patient in need of an electrocardiogram said the appointment would be in three months. It added: “If the person named on this computer-generated letter is deceased, please accept our sincere apologies.” …The patient wasn’t dead, according to the doctor who showed the letter to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Americans who flock to Canada for cheap flu shots often come away impressed at the free and first-class medical care available to Canadians, rich or poor. But tell that to hospital administrators constantly having to cut staff for lack of funds, or to the mother whose teenager was advised she would have to wait up to three years for surgery to repair a torn knee ligament.

“It’s like somebody’s telling you that you can buy this car, and you’ve paid for the car, but you can’t have it right now,” said Jane Pelton. Rather than leave daughter Emily in pain and a knee brace, the Ottawa family opted to pay $3,300 for arthroscopic surgery at a private clinic in Vancouver, with no help from the government.

Defenders of the Canadian system call it the “most moral and most cost-effective health care system there is in the world”. As proof of its morality, they make the argument that it’s good because there’s no contamination by self-interest. The website for this group, Friends of Medicare, is very explicit on this point in their FAQ:

Why shouldn’t I be permitted to buy medical treatment for myself and my family?

The Moral Answer

Let’s turn the question around. If you can afford the treatment for your grandchild, but your neighbor cannot, what justification is there for denying your neighbor’s grandchild timely treatment? Is your sick grandchild more deserving of help than your neighbor’s grandchild? This gets to the heart of the moral question; and it gets to the heart of the basic value represented by our compassionate Canadian Medicare System. The basic principle is that a person has the right to the best medical care available regardless of ability to pay.

As appalling as the answer is, at least they are totally clear on the moral underpinnings of their policies, as well as the practical consequence – you should not be able to buy better health care than your neighbor, since it goes against the moral value of egalitarianism. One obvious corollary would be an eventual ban on people buying better food their their neighbors even if they can afford to do so, because there’s no justification for you to have something your neighbor can’t. It may seem far-fetched now, but so would the current position of the “Friends of Medicare” just a generation ago. (The FAQ also glosses over the fact that buying something for oneself is not the same as “denying” the same thing for your neighbor – this is just another example of the “fixed pie” fallacy in action.)

The article also details a number of bizarre unintended consequences caused by the perverse incentive system of Canadian health care. For example:

…That’s one way the system discourages the spread of private medicine — by limiting it to nonresidents. But it can have curious results, says [orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Day].

He tells of a patient who was informed by Ontario officials that since Ontario couldn’t help him, they would spend $35,000 to send him to the United States for surgery.

Day said his Vancouver clinic could have done it for $12,000 but the Ontario officials “do not philosophically support sending an individual to a nongovernment clinic in Canada.”

The rest of the article describes various Canadians’ desires to somehow reform the system, while retaining the egalitarian nature. Given the unsoundness of the underlying premise, all I can say is “Rotsa Ruck!”

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha