Marge McCaughey*, an 80-something-year-old living in Osoyoos, woke up one morning noticing that her right foot ached.
It wasn’t too painful, and Marge didn’t dwell on it much. She was not a drama queen type. If it ain’t broke, what is the point in fixing it.
Still, when she went to the doctor for a regular check up later that month, Marge decided to mention her sore right foot.
The doctor carefully examined it.
“You should go see a specialist”, she advised Marge. “I’ll phone them today. They’ll get back to you sometime soon with the appointment time.”
Since it did not seem too big a deal, Marge did not worry about it much. In fact she began to forget about the whole thing. After all, Marge was over 80 years old. She often got referred to doctors. Her right foot hurt a bit, yes, but not enough to cause alarm.
So imagine Marge’s shock when — three years later — the specialist finally called with an appointment.
The Canadian debate on private versus public health care has been going on an exhaustingly long time, and there are more heartbreaking tales out there than Marge’s three-year sore foot debacle.
Still, my jaw almost hit the ground when I heard her story last week.
Public health care in Canada is — for the most part — awesome. Universal, accessible health care for everyone makes sense. And it sure beats the system down in the United States, where if you miss the boat on getting in with an insurance company while you are still healthy, it becomes nerve-racking and difficult to get medical assistance later on.
That said — long waits to receive treatment continues, and continues to be a problem.
A study from the University of Toronto recently found that if you need to get magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) done in Canada, it will take you 13 weeks at a public clinic to get the body scan done. (Which is three months. Which means, if you went today, you would be gearing up for spring skiing by the time your insides got checked.)
But if you went to a private clinic instead, it would only take four days.
Four days! No wonder more Canadians are thinking twice about the type of medical care they want to receive. And little surprise that Canada is moving towards a more fuzzy, muddy, two-tiered sorta private, sorta public health care system.
At the crux of the issue is that there is not enough public funding to keep up with the Canadian people’s demand for things like MRIs.
Here in Whistler, you do not have to look very hard to find an example of this.
For a long time the three health care funding partners in the Sea to Sky corridor have been rallying to get a computer tomography (CT) scanner up-and-running at the Whistler Health Care Centre.
Getting enough cash to fund the thing has been a challenge, with fundraising going back to 2006. But the partners have been working hard (much credit to them), and while the wait for a public CT scan in Whistler just got extended by a few months, they are sticking fast to their aim of having the machine working within the year.
Yet, last month, in a dazzling display of mockery towards the whole Canadian health care system, a private MRI waltzed its way right through Whistler’s doors. While the doctor who is starting the MRI clinic plans to apply for B.C. Medical Services Plan coverage, as it stands now, patients will be charged out of their pocket (at a discount rate) for using the service. Though patients will need a referral from a physician.
MRIs and CT scans are not the same thing. But they are similar things. And public health care’s struggle to get a CT scanner amid the private doctor’s ease at acquiring a major piece of medical equipment speaks volumes about the big, bad loop in our otherwise great system.
I am an advocate for public — and only public — health care. The fact that anyone, from any background, can expect to receive the same level of care is part of what makes Canada such a fantastic country. Half-public, half-private medicine, on the other hand, sounds eerily similar to the tune of George Orwell’s “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Or: All patients need treatment, but some need treatment more than others. And can get it if they pay.
So now, how can Canada balance a 100 per cent health care system that does not include long waits for treatment? I guess that is where the real beast lies.
* Name has been changed to protect privacy