Jumping the queue-paying for private health care

Gerald Allgaier, politcal point of view.
Gerald Allgaier, politcal point of view.

“If you chose not to decide, you still have made a choice… I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose freewill.” — Rush, the other iconic Canadian band.

Dr. Brian Day, owner of Cambie Medical Clinic, is suing the provincial government, specifically the Medical Protection Act which bans purchasing private health insurance for services covered by the public health system. Dr. Day claims this prevents patients from receiving timely care which is not part of the terms “free” and “universal” as enshrined in the Canada Health Act, which was intended to provide equal access to quality care to
all Canadians.

However, lengthy waiting lists for fairly basic services in the public system, plus the fact that Workers’ Compensation claimants, RCMP members, Armed Forces personnel, federal prisoners plus union members in the federal public service get moved to the front of the “queue”, has understandably aroused resentment from many common people who say there are differing levels of service dependent upon special circumstance. Equal doesn’t appear to be quite so. Some people are getting better treatment than others, argued Day. He offers surgical procedures for those willing to pay for them and argues the option should be a right available to anyone who has the money.

As Shakespeare would say, “there’s the rub.” It’s a fact of life that money talks. It buys better stuff — better skis, better airline seats, etc., and in this case, better medical treatment. Trying to pretend that laws of economics don’t apply is akin to saying the law of gravity is unfair to those of us with a middle age spread.

Proponents of the current system claim that Day’s proposed changes would allow those with money to “jump
the queue.”

My question is why is there a queue in the first place? We don’t queue to buy groceries, shoes, dental care, veterinary service or myriads of other services. This is not the Soviet Union or present-day Venezuela. My cat can have more or less same-day treatment for his hip but I have to wait an average of 21 weeks in Canada to even see a specialist, never mind have the procedure. Government rationing of goods and services never has been and will never be efficient, or for that matter even remotely fair.

A doctor friend of mine who is horrified by my line of thinking said Day is only doing it for the money, which Day denies. Cambie Medical is in the treatment business and charges government set rates. There is good money in medicine, no doubt about that. Patients in private clinics receive timely care, reduced wait times, alleviation of pain and the ability to return to normal activities of daily living. To me this is the real function of a proper health care system. To make everyone wait for rationed care is cruel and really unfair.

The people receiving private care are actually helping the system as there is one less person each time stuck in the “queue,” and  paying for it from their own pocket adds resources to the entire health care system. Even the Socialist Swedes, the capitalistic Swiss, the hedonistic French and the pragmatic Germans have parallel systems allowing choice. Canadians should too.

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