Experts claim two-tier healthcare exists

We have always had a two tier healthcare system that allows people with money or influence to immediately receive the care they need, at a hospital or clinic of their choice." So says Dr. Bill McArthur, practising physician and Visiting Fellow in health policy at The Fraser Institute, in an interview with CARPNews shortly after the annual general meeting of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), held recently in Vancouver.

"The federal and provincial governments have misled and lied to Canadians by saying we have a wonderful, universal and comprehensive healthcare system that will look after us from cradle to grave. And the people being hurt the most are seniors, the poor and the chronically ill,"

McArthur says. "Instead of using taxpayers’ money to ensure those people get top quality care, governments are frittering it away across the whole system by subsidizing the wealthy — those who can well afford to pay for their own care."

McArthur says Canadians are going to the United States for immediate care instead of joining a queue and waiting for treatment in their own province. As an example he refers to the case of former Quebec Premier Robertourassa who, when he required treatment for his melanoma, went to prestigious Walter Reed Hospital in Washington.

Another situation that McArthur finds "farcical" is the position of the Workers’ Compensation Board, a government corporation that operates outside the Canada Health Act.

While the B.C. government is vehemently opposed to a two tier healthcare system, the Board sends injured workers to the privately operated Cambie Surgical Centre in Vancouver, avoiding the long wait they would have to face if the operation was scheduled at a public hospital.

"Most people who say they don’t want a two tier healthcare system don’t realize we have a two tier system now," says Dr. Brian Day, president of the corporation that developed Cambie Surgical Centre. This private clinic has eleven beds and about 70 doctors performing surgery.

"All politicians, government employees, members of unions and workers at large companies have extended health insurance that pays for things like a private room, artificial limbs, dental care and braces for arthritic knees things not paid for by the Medical Services Plan.

"About 72 per cent of the population has extended health insurance, but what about the other 28 per cent?" Day asks.

He says some of his patients waited six months to get into a public hospital, and only a day or two before they were to enter hospital they were informed the only accommodation available were private rooms costing about $85 a day. If they didn’t have extended care or were unable to pay for the room themselves, their surgery was cancelled.

"I have 265 people waiting for surgery now, and if 50 per cent of them were allowed to go to a private hospital it would cut the waiting time for the others in half," Day says. "Waiting time is about 11 months. Some of these patients are off work and receiving work loss benefits like insurance or disability payments of $3,000 a month while waiting for an operation that can be done for $750. Does that make economic sense?

"A tour of Vancouver Hospital will reveal more than 100 empty beds," says Day. "Doctors are available and nurses want to work, but operating rooms are empty because the government is rationing healthcare services." Day describes Vancouver Hospital’s practice of closing for one day every fifth week as "bureaucracy gone mad" and questions how the hospital could do this when people have to wait for up to a year for a simple operation. "Our healthcare system, besides being one of the most expensive in the world, is also the worst when considered on a cost/benefit basis," Day says.

As an example of how poorly Canada’s healthcare system fares when compared with that of other countries, McArthur refers to one service provided in Brazil which, he points out, isn’t especially noted for its healthcare system. "Most of the people have private insurance to pay for their healthcare and they can get a CT scan in two or three days. Those who are destitute must wait four or five months. In Vancouver the average waiting time for a CT scan is about one year." And if an MRI is required, those not wanting to wait can have it done almost immediately at the private Capilano and Riverside magnetic resonance centres in North Vancouver and Richmond.

The CMA doesn’t support a private healthcare system, but Day believes the public has lost faith in the present system. "When the government asks the public what it wants, it confuses the issue by asking if it wants a free, universally accessible healthcare system, or a for profit, two tier, American style system. The question that should be asked is whether the government should deny its citizens the legal right to spend their own money on their health," says Day. "Then they’ll hear a resounding NO."