It’s health care fraud, but not the kind you think

[Cache – #92]

Countries have brands, which in this sense are essentially national psyches.  Integral to the Canadian brand/psyche are ideas like diversity, tolerance and friendliness.  And universal / free health care.  Except that this last one is a complete and utter fraud.  It’s a lie we persist in telling each other in our never-ending bid to differentiate ourselves from (read: prove that we are better than) the Americans, who must, as we all know, completely fend for themselves.

From this morning’s news:

“A study released in Winnipeg says the financial cost of cancer can be devastating on patients and their families.  For some, it begins a financial tailspin that results in debt, distress, bankruptcy and even a lifetime on social assistance.  The study by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Action Network says nine out of 10 families that experience a cancer diagnosis have some form of financial hardship.

“There was no one single challenge reported in the study but a combination of factors that led to financial hardship.  Sick time and vacation time gets used up, day-to-day living costs increase and unforseen expenditures come in the form of drugs and medical equipment.  Other major costs include child care, travel expenses and even the high cost of parking at hospitals and other treatment centres.”

Free health care?  What a joke.  I’m not sure that we as Canadians can afford to pay for someone’s child care and travel expenses, but we should at least help pay for their medication, upon which a patient’s life and death depends, and which can cost more than $7,000 per month:  $84,000 per year. Just ask Traci Gaudet of PEI, daughter of the departed Joan, whose province refused to pay the monthly bill of $7,745 for a drug called Sutent.  The financial distress was devastating:

“You have to remember the whole time she was trying to fight cancer, the focus wasn’t on the cancer, the focus was on trying to get enough money to cover the drug,” her daughter recalled from Summerside, P.E.I. “So the focus was not on wellness, it was on finances.”

“The Gaudet family and their community rallied to pay for Sutent until the province relented and picked up the tab months later. Her daughter blames the battle for weakening her mother.”

How can we be so blind?  While all of us know someone who’s had cancer, we can be forgiven for not being privy to the financial hardship they experience.  But on a variety of other fronts, we have absolutely no excuse for not fully appreciating that health care in this country is anything but universal or free.  Including Joan’s cancer drugs, Canadians spent $31.1 billion on medication in 2010, or $912 per capita.  Dental care is not covered by government insurance, yet it would be impossible to argue that your mouth has nothing to do with your health, and the connection between oral and heart health is very much a possibility.

Perhaps our greatest conceit is that we, friendly people that we are, sustain our “free” system through tax dollars.  Anyone driving up Toronto’s University Avenue would have to be literally blind to believe that whopper.  The thoroughfare, home to several major hospitals, is a veritable Broadway of signs adorned not with my name or yours, but with those of that rarest class of all, the billionaire.  The Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at University Health Network. The McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Toronto General.  The Lebovic Health Complex at Mount Sinai.

These generous individuals donated a wildy disproportionate piece of the $9-billion in total that Canadians gave (to all charities) in 2008.  Not to minimize for a moment the significant proportion of our income that the rest of us give – even if we’re only half as generous as those selfish Americans.  That’s right:  Americans give almost twice as much per capita to charity as we do.  So much for another pillar of the Canadian brand.

I believe that a major factor behind the stubborn persistence of the universal / free health care fraud is Canadians’ dislike of rich businesspeople.  We don’t dislike Wayne Gretzky because of his money – because he’s a hockey player, and hockey is another of our sacred cows.  But we have a profound lack of respect for people like Munk, McEwen, Lebovic and their ilk, because it is crucial to the protection of our national self-image that we believe we’re all in this together, that we’re all to be commended equally for upholding the system.  The truth, of course, is that without the ultra-rich, the Canadian health care system would be a bare shadow of its former self.

The ultimate proof of our denial can be found in “The Greatest Canadian” contest run several years back on the CBC.  Who did Canadians deem “the greatest”?  Tommy Douglas, the man who launched the lie.  And how many businessmen were among the 100 greatest Canadians identified?  Well, have a look here.  There among Shania, Celine, Mike Myers, Don Cherry and Brett “The Hitman” Hart, you will see that we voted not a single businessperson into the top 100.  How generous of us.


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6 Responses to It’s health care fraud, but not the kind you think

  1. Maj Qureshi says:

    Great blog about health care – and I agree with you all the way: without the affluent philanthropists in our country the healthcare system would be in shambles.

    I would like to make one correction in the top 100. John Molson – founder of Molson beer at number 92.

    One businessman did make it in to the top 100!!

    • Coin says:

      Thanks Maj. I stand corrected. Related, I just had a look at the Discovery Channel’s contest on The Greatest American, here: We can see that Walt Disney, Bill Gates and Henry Ford all make the list, which is of only 25 people. Unscientific I know, but at that rate, could it be that Americans have 12 times as much respect for their business leaders than we do for ours? Where are Irving, Sobey, Southam, McCain, Weston, Balsillie, Lazaridis, Pattison, Schwartz, Reisman and the many more deserving business leaders on the Canadian list??

  2. Hi Andris,

    Good post; it sums up my family`s experience, the cost of her chemotherapy drugs alone was $99,680.00. That was paid by the health system. The related drugs for side effects like a crashed her immune system crashed were almost $1,000 per month and out of pocket.

    Here are 3 short posts related to the term I coined “Carcinoeconomics”

    With God’s grace, community support and a lot of peronal courage, my wife is healthy again.

    Be well Andris!

    • Coin says:

      Robert: I am so, so happy to hear your wife is well. I haven’t seen you two since the benefit on King Street, so indeed I was wondering. Thank you for being in touch and for your comment. I will check out the links.

  3. Arijit Banik says:

    You have hit on a number of issues here that takes the veil of how Canadians perceive themselves versus the reality of holding a mirror that reveals the nation’s fragile psyche -warts and all. Without completely vilifying the shortcomings of our society –all countries are hypocritical to some extent and I feel qualified to say this as I was born in India– there can be no doubt that ‘free’ health care is a misnomer, as is the notion that there is no ‘two tier’ system. Anyone with a private insurance plan through their company is privy to access to the higher tier of Canadian healthcare and thus less burdened by the misfortune of bad health.
    You also touched upon dental health: here is an example where coverage erosion is (sadly) a global phenomenon. Canadians do not have dental coverage under medicare and this model is now being transported to a country like Ireland which (in attempting to recover from a massive national debt burden thanks to a disastrous bailout of its banking system and real estate crash) is cutting services such as coverage for dental health.
    Finally, the lack of Canadians embracing material success is complex; there has unquestionably been less largess on the part of the elite in Canada and as a result less patronage for institutions and public spaces. If one looks to our southern neighbors then one notices the landmarks that are available for all to see. The Robber Barons made their fortune by exploitation but they left a legacy of patronage and public spaces that succeeding generations of Americans have been able to enjoy. In that respect, the Canadian elite have a lot of catching up to do.

    • Coin says:

      Thank you Arijit. As for Canada’s fragile psyche: I suppose Canadians lie to themselves that they have “free” and “universal” health care because if it were true, it would be one of the most significant ways in which they are different (read: “better”) than Americans. And long ago it was said that the chief way in which Canadians define themselves is not by a positive definition, as in “we are…”, but by a negative, being “We are not Americans.”

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