Public Health Care: Reform It Or Lose It


You have a choice between paying extra for care at places such as the South Keys Health Centre or receiving treatment in the public health-care system with money taken from your taxes.

If the health centre is being accurate in its numbers, officials there say there’s a waiting list of 10,000 people are willing to pay a $400 membership fee to join the centre. There nurse practitioners, who can charge privately for care, will see you and can refer you to a specialist. Doctors are on site but the centre says their work is separate from its operation.

So 10,000 residents are willing to pay for their health care through their taxes and for a fee instead of just through their taxes.

People choose extra fees over no fees.

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What does this equation tell you? That our public health-care system is not working well for thousands of people. That problem is easy to understand. The numbers speak for themselves.

Public health care is sacred to Canadians. No Liberal, Conservative or (most certainly) NDP prime minister will touch this program. That’s a one-way ticket to landing in the other side of the House. Many people equate as a major difference between the U.S. and Canada is that we have public health and the U.S. does not and many Americans are very envious of the Canadian system. One of the many characteristics that differentiate Americans and Canadians is by the fact that most conservatives here wouldn’t dream of touching public health. In the U.S., conservatives rail against it.

Our health-care system is one of the most civilizing things Canada has ever done. Gone are the days long ago when if you didn’t have the money, your child didn’t get a bed in a hospital. Thank goodness those days are over. People despite their condition get into the front door today.

Sometimes from there, things can go downhill. If the case is life-and-death, that person gets immediate treatment. Everyone else? The waits in the emergency department have become legendary. Some people with funds travel south of the border to be treated in their overwhelmingly expensive system. Others travel to Quebec where you can buy some diagnostic services.

But here is one more thing.

If people can’t get a family doctor or spend many hours in emergency, that puts public health care at risk. The time will come when residents turn on public health care because it doesn’t work for them. Some of those are among the 10,000 or so people waiting for service at a private clinic in Ottawa’s south end. That’s a lot of people so frustrated by the public system that they are willing to pay a fee above taxes for service.

Now some of that concern is the result of demographics. The huge baby boom generation is reaching its intense health-care years. And some argue that more money does not have to be thrown at the public system because most boomers will die within 10 or 15 years. Then following generations will have more health care than they need. That’s not much conciliation for boomers, but for their offspring, a bonanza.

The problems with this argument are that it is cruel to the sick and before the boomer crush ends, Canada might not have a public health-care system at all. That’s how bad it is at present.

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In other words, we have a crisis in health care and our federal, provincial and municipal (Ottawa doesn’t have enough paramedics and ambulances) politicians must address it. It’s up to you as citizens to ensure that the appropriate elected officials, administrators and public service deal substantively with this vital question. Life or death. Move it or lose it.

As for the South Keys clinic, the province must investigate it and if officials believe it has broken the law, it should be charged and have its days in court. The rule of law is paramount.

But important too is the health of Canadians. If public health-care fails, those laws supporting it will be changed and the most civilizing thing this country has done will disappear to the detriment of the poor, the aged and those unable to care for themselves.

That’s an awful legacy.

Ken Gray




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