So You Want Universal Healthcare? Obama or Hillary’s Plan?

Both Senator Obama and Hillary Clinton have proposed universal or “single payer” healthcare systems, though there is very little difference between the two approaches.  Both proposals currently contain some provision for private healthcare, but for how long.  Once we are down the road to government run healthcare, how long before a Democratic controlled Congress goes along and passes a true government run system?  Four years?  Eight?  And once in place, it will never be undone.  Political Night Train believes we need more light on how other universal healthcare systems are doing and because of a recent posting by a reader, we will run a series of articles that try to get at what the Canadian system offers, or does not offer it’s citizens.  Here then is the first, and perhaps one of the best articles we’ve seen.  You can read the entire article at Your Turn: The real cost of “free healthcare”A letter to the editors Private healthcare does have its problems, but it is hard to argue that it is failing on the whole. With Canada being the main country of comparison for many healthcare arguments, it will be the main focus of comparison for this piece. A widespread myth about healthcare is that Canada’s universal coverage system is superior to the U.S.’s private system in terms of quality of care received. This is a vital dynamic of the healthcare system and claims against quality of care should not be taken lightly. A patient of Canadian healthcare waits 17.7 weeks, on average, for hospital treatment with residents of Saskatchewan waiting an average of 30 weeks. These waiting times are unheard of in America’s private system. In the United States, the occasional story of a death occurring while waiting for an operation, while unfortunate and heart-wrenching, is nothing short of ordinary in countries with socialized medicine. In 1999, Dr. Richard F. Davies, a cardiologist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, described to the Canadian Institute for Health Information how delays affected Ontario heart patients scheduled for coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In a single year, for this one operation, the doctor reported, “71 Ontario patients died before surgery, 121 were removed from the list permanently because they had become medically unfit for surgery,” and “44 left the province to have the surgery, many having gone to the United States for the operation.” In short, 192 people either died or became too sick to have surgery before even getting a chance to be operated on. You say you want universal healthcare, like that being proposed by Senator Obama or Hillary?  You say the Canadians have universal healthcare and that it’s a great system?  Let’s read what the Canadians have to say.  The following article is an excellent example of how the elderly are treated at Canadian hospitals.  Still want to send your mama or grandpa to a universal healthcare hospital?

Almost euthanasia

 By Klaus Rohrich  Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Next time you feel like bragging about how great the Canadian healthcare system is you may want to consider what’s routinely done to elderly patients in some of our hospitals.  Recently an elderly woman, let’s call her Mary, had a stroke, which affected the left side of her body, meaning that the stroke occurred in the right lobe of her brain. Mary was admitted to hospital in a fairly timely fashion and was quickly diagnosed by competent medical staff, including a neurologist.  After the diagnosis she was given an intravenous drip (IV) containing blood thinners and other medications designed to ameliorate the affects of the stroke.  She also received a CAT scan, which established that the stroke had caused considerable damage to her brain.  The hospital informed the family that there wasn’t much that could be done for Mary and to prepare for the inevitable, even suggesting the withdrawal of the IV. The family was devastated at the prospect of losing Mary and hesitated in following the hospital’s recommendation, reasoning that withholding medication and nourishment was contrary to their belief in the sanctity of life. Here’s where the story gets interesting.  It took four days for the neurologist to contact the family regarding Mary’s prognosis, and when he finally did contact them he informed them that he had cancelled plans for Mary to have a speech therapist and physiotherapist.  His view of Mary’s prognosis was that the situation was completely hopeless, as a second CAT scan had revealed even more severe damage to the right lobe of Mary’s brain than the first.  “There’s nothing else to be done,” the doctor informed the crestfallen family members. Mary, however, had other plans.  As she lay in her hospital bed for over three weeks, she slowly began to regain her ability to speak and actually managed to move parts of her left side, starting with the toes on her left foot.  Throughout all this time Mary’s family and friends were at the side of her hospital bed caring for her and communicating their love to her.  On numerous occasions Mary was able to speak to relatives in Germany in her native German and related the conversation to family members at the hospital in English.  She also regained the ability to write—all on her own without help of a therapist. As her speech managed to improve, Mary began to express a desire to eat, as for the entire time that she had been hospitalized the hospital had failed to feed her.  When questioned by Mary’s family as to why they hospital refused to give Mary food, the nurses explained that it was a liability issue, as stroke patients were never fed until they had passed a “swallowing test”. Only problem is the person qualified to administer the swallowing test is an itinerant tester that apparently moves from hospital to hospital, covering, it seems, a fairly wide range of territory.  According to the hospital, during the three weeks that Mary had been hospitalized this tester had had only one occasion to visit the hospital to administer said swallowing test, but Mary was sleeping and was therefore not tested. It seems highly implausible that a community of over 20,000 people with an ultra-modern hospital wouldn’t have visits from a qualified professional tasked with testing stroke victims more frequently than once every three or four weeks.  Much more plausible is the doctor’s view that Mary’s life isn’t worth saving, given the results of the CAT scan, regardless of Mary’s remarkable progress. What happened to Mary under the Canadian government healthcare monopoly is frightening, albeit not unusual, as many other people have related similar stories.  What happened to Mary would under any other circumstances be described as an attempt at euthanasia.  But here in Canada they call it healthcare.

Last month, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released a new study showing that last year patients waiting for health care services in just four clinical areas cost Canada’s economy $14.8-billion in lost productivity and health expenses. It is clear that health care rationing and maintaining inappropriate wait times for medical care represent poor public policy. A study released last month by the European-based Health Consumer Powerhouse, comparing Canada’s health system to 29 European countries, ranked us 23rd overall, and last in terms of value for money spent. We can and should do better.


Wait lists for medically necessary health care are Canada’s shame, says writer Nadeem Esmail.  Canadians are generally proud of their universal access health insurance program, which ostensibly provides access to care regardless of ability to pay.  However, as Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, says, access to a waiting list is not access to health care. An examination of Canada’s lengthy wait lists can help put that statement in perspective, says Esmail:

  • In 2007, wait times for access to health care in Canada reached a new historic high: 18.3 weeks averaged across 12 medical specialties.
  • Canadians waited a median of 25 weeks for cataract surgery from the time their general practitioner referred them to a specialist to the time they received treatment.

More alarmingly:

  • Canadians waited a median of 42 weeks for joint replacement.
  • This means that those patients who were referred by the their general practitioner for a hip or knee replacement surgery on January 2, only half would have received their treatment by October 23 while half would still be waiting for care.

Consider the personal costs a wait line of that magnitude entails:

  • A patient may experience an adverse event while waiting.
  • The wait could cause a potentially more difficult surgery and recovery.
  • Any wait time entails some amount of pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost leisure, lost productivity at work, and strained personal relationships.

How concerned is the government about the personal costs associated with these lengthy wait times?  According to Esmail, not much.  Their main goal is to avoid serious negative health consequences rather than minimize waiting and, thus, personal costs all together.Source:  Nadeem Esmail, “Why are Canadians Still Waiting for Healthcare?” Fraser Institute, February, 2008.


The architect of Quebec’s now-overburdened public health care system is proposing a strong and controversial remedy that includes further privatization and user fees of up to C$100 (about U.S. $98) for people to see their family doctor.In a 338-page report, former provincial Liberal health minister Claude Castonguay concluded that Quebec can no longer sustain the annual growth in health care costs.  The province currently spends about C$24 billion (about U.S. $23.6 billion) annually on health care, or about 40 per cent of its budget.Other recommendations include:

  • A new tax, including a “health care deductible” based on income and the number of visits made to a doctor’s office or hospital in a calendar year. Low-income families and children would be exempt.
  • Encouraging private-sector involvement in the management of hospitals and medical clinics.
  • Lifting a ban that prevents doctors from practicing both in the public system and privately.
  • Raising the provincial sales tax by up to one percentage point.

In the report, provocatively titled “Getting Our Money’s Worth,” the working group headed by Castonguay also recommends an overhaul of the Canada Health Act, which “sooner or later must be adapted to today’s realities.”“If nothing is done, at one point we will reach a crisis point … this is why we say it is urgent to act,” Castonguay said.  “There’s no miracle solution, there is no simple solution.”Source: Sean Gordon, “More private health care urged: Report for Quebec government proposes fees, health act changes to help overburdened system,” Toronto Star, February 20, 2008.


19 Responses

  1. […] post by politicalnighttrain delivered by Medtrials and […]

  2. I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

  3. Thank you for posting the truth!
    This is not focused on by the general biased media.

  4. Let’s see. seems the Canadian system is OK except for long waiting times. Suppose funding were to be doubled. What would that do to waiting times?

    HR 676 proposed for the U.S. proposes funding at twice the level in Canada. Since we already pay twice per capita what Canada pays for health services. So a comparison with a system funded at half our level is n ot particularly useful.

  5. Tom, you have to be kidding. We have 300 million people in this country. Ahh, Canda is a little smaller shall we say. The USA cannot spend enough money on healthcare to meet the demand of “free” healthcare.

    What happens when the government offers “free” programs like social security? Well, we pay a lot personally and via business for this program. Yet, it is still going to go broke as a program unless major changes are made.

  6. As a Canadian let me warn you all…stay away from a health care system like the one in operation in Canada. it is a bureaucratic diaster!
    What started out as a reasonably compassionate idea in the sixties has grown to a money-gobbling, poltical monster that provides lousy service and inadequate treatment. The original idea, proposed in the early sixties (I was old enough to follow it back then) was that the system would provide government funding to people who were in danger of losing their homes and life savings as a result of catastrophic ilness. Everyone would pay a nominal fee to provide coverage for these unfortunate people. The public would still be able to purchase private insurance to cover themselves. Fair enough. I have no problem with lending a helping hand to folks who, through no fault of their own, are placed in a situation where their only choices are going bankrupt or dying. At that time there were a lot of cautionary voices raised that the system would grow out of control unless the rules were set out in such a manner that the politicians couldn’t change them without jumping through a really tough set of hoops.
    Canadians, generally being compassionate people, went along with the proposal, but they failed to ensure that the politicos were kept out of the picture. That brought on the disaster which followed. The legislation as initially enacted was no longer just for people in distress, it now covered a goodly portion of the hospital and doctor’s costs. To buy off the provinces, the federal government proposed a 50-50 cost split. Doctors were permitted to charge over and above the fee schedules set out by the government. Even with these changes the system worked reasonably well for a time. If you had the money or the proper insurance you could pay for a semi-private or private room or you could get gold plated service from clinics filled with specialists. But everyone got basic service for no additional cost.
    However, as time went by the costly freebies began to creep in and the left wing nutters started pitching the doctrine that no one should get the gold plated service unless evryone got it. It wasn’t a matter that the treatment was still first rate at little or no cost except for monthly premiums to the government; Their socialist philosophy meant that the people who could afford the perks with fancy rooms and all the amenities, were now to be denied these extras. It was the usual mean spirited attack on the wealthy. From my point of view it was a stupid argument. The rich guy could drive a Cadillac, I could only afford a Chevy. Big deal, maybe if I worked harder or got a better education I could drive a Caddy as well! But the push was now that health care was a ‘right’ and was different from the usual give and take of the market. Everyone would be dragged down to the lowest common denominator.
    The whole system now began to spiral out of control as the politicians began to vie with one another to see who could buy the most votes with the people’s money. First, the doctors were denied the right to charge fees over and above the rates set by the government and most of the specialty clinics were forced to conform to the one-size-fits-all system of health care. This served to drive many doctors out of Canada and into the waiting arms of you folks down South. Private insurance was denied. You buy it from a government regulated single supplier. Soon all health care premiums were eliminated with the exception of the province in which I live…and that is soon going since we have struck it rich with oil.
    Today the system is broke both literally and figuratively. New generations that never witnessed a reasonably cheap system that had plenty of space for patients have now been brainwashed into thinking that medical care is free and is a right. In fact, the health care services in this country are refered to as ‘the crown jewel of the Canadian social system’. Some jewel…it is an expensive paste imitation.
    The costs of this boondoggle are immense. Health care costs now chew up 40 to 50 percent of all provincial budgets on average. In fact, until recently the province of Saskatchewan spent its entire provincial income on health care. All other services were paid for out of another fund that sees wealthier provinces pay more in taxes to the feds that they get back in services with the ‘have not provinces’ getting additional funding to bring their health and education standards up to a national average. This province has since become a ‘have’ province as a result of increased commodity prices but there are still a number of provinces who find themselves in Saskatchewan’s previous position.
    To add insult to injury, when the feds decided it was time to quit running deficits they just cut the funding to the provinces for health care. Under the previous administration the percentage of the cost provided by the feds got as low as 19%. The provinces, were left to fend for themselves while the feds retained the right to set the rules for health care and kept the same amount of tax dollars that were supposed to be shared. And the rules are totally arbitrary. If the feds are strong with the voters in one province the health care overlords turn a blind eye to the new private clinics that open up. if you happen to vote for the other party you can forget about any new clinics…you get threatened with having your transfers cut off. As of now, the Province of Quebec, has the most private clinice but since it is right across the river from the Capital the politicians have easy access to these services. Most of them have, as their doctors, the people who run these clinics. In British Columbia the government sends all their essentail personell such as police and firefighters, who have been injured and are on workers compensation, to private clinics. They have found that, as a result of faster treatment and better recovery times, that the costs for these folks is cut in half. Yet the socialists still scream if the public gets a crack at these facilities. Oh No, that’s two tier medicine.
    In this country doctors earn less than dentists and, in many cases. less than veterinarians. We have a shortage of specialist since they can never recover the costs of their schooling at the salary they get paid. Most doctors work incredible hours just to earn a decent living. In Calgary there is a horrendous shortage yet many are leaving because they can’t afford to pay for office space in the super-charged economy. Nurses too have left in droves because the hospitals try to hire them as part time staff so they can avoid paying benefits. All the while the bureaucracy grows like Topsy. Whole multi-story buildings are taken up with reams of paper shufflers who do nothing but fill out government forms. In Newfoundland over 380 women have died from cancer as a result of botched medical tests. A problem the provincial health authority confirms they were aware of for years, yet chose to do nothing. One of the reasons is that they can’t afford to pay for fully trained clinicians. The horror stories abound and everything in the article above is true.
    As a personal example: in the early sixties I tore up my knee playong footaball. From the time my dodtor diagnosed it, through the series of X-rays until I was operated on took less than a month…and I had my choice of which hospital I wanted to be treated in. Five years ago I tore up the other knee. After it was diagnosed, it took three months for a scan alone and I was told I would have to go on a two year waiting list to get the operation. Forget it! It’s still torn and it will stay that way. I’d rather die on the street like a dog than go into one of these assembly line butcher shops.
    if you want a reasonable system look to Germany, Holland or Belgum. They operate on a two tier system which is far cheaper and more efficient that is Canada’s. Our system remains anathema to the socialists who trot out some fat dame with bad hair and a British accent to scream “two-tier, two tier” every time someone proposes a change which might make things better. And the truly sad part is that most of the people younger than I think this is the way the system has to work since it is all they have ever known and since they are constantly bombarded with propoganda telling them how wonderful it is. When you hear stories about how great Canada’s health care system is my best advice is this: don’t eat it, Elmer, the straw sticks in your teeth!
    I apologize for the long discourse, but I thought a viewpoint from someone who was around at the start and who has seen the system go downhill might give you some pause for thought before you jump into something you will live to regret.

  7. Did you see the Bunk study stating 2/3 of doctors in America want National Health Care. The doctors who did this study also conducted one in 2002 and found that the majority of doctors did not want national health care, the problem with this is that the 2 question surveys drastically differ in there 2nd question. I found this article, 60% of Physicians Surveyed Oppose Switching to a National Health Care Plan, It’s worth a read.

  8. Funny. While reading your “Almost euthanasia” story, I couldn’t help but think to myself that it sounded almost word for word as what MY family went through here in AMERICA in our so called glorious PRIVATE healthcare system. Luckily, had it not been for my mom’s will to survive, she may have ended up a story on this narrow-minded blog. Before you post crap like this, do yourself a favor and go talk to those of us who have actually been through the healthcare system here in the States for a dose of reality! Or better yet, have yourself a major health problem, admit yourself to a hospital, and then ask yourself if you have it all wrong…providing you make it out in one piece.

  9. I would have to agree with ‘appallingly shocked’ on this one… the story regarding euthanasia is nothing when you compare that to what happens in the US. Sounds to me like Mary’s prognosis was based largely upon what the MRI’s read and the doctor was trying to give an honest opinion of her chances of survivng. Furthermore the ‘starvation’ that she went through… sounds to me like she was given nurishment through an IV. How much did that cost by the way, and you say that this was for 3 weeks? Because I can tell you that for 3 hours, I was given saline solution at the hospital, 3 hours, which amounted to 2 bags. They would not even give me the IV without me signing a statement that I would be financially responsible and they would be able to have my wages garnished, tax returns taken etc, I spent 7 hours in the ER. My cost – $400 for the saline alone, there was also a cost for the person who put the IV in, and the ER room and the MRI and MRI tech’s fees, and the UA, oh and then there is also the doctors fees. How much did Mary’s family pay?
    Atleast Mary recieved care and her family knew that they could take her to the hospital and not have to worry about how they were going to pay for the visit. She was in the hospital for a minimum of 3 weeks? About 8 years ago I was in the hospital for 4 days and I had health insurance… my out of pocket cost when all was said and done $7000. My recent 7 hour ER visit cost me $4000. Now you tell me, 192 patients died waiting for treatment in Canada… three times that many die here everyday due to either being too scared to go seek treatment when needed, being denied coverage through their insurance companies or having made up pre-exsisting conditions. So what did Mary’s family have to pay for that visit?

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