Private Care Can Cure Public Woes

By Jason Menard

Not to slaughter any sacred Canadian cows here, but perhaps it’s time to take a good, hard look at Private Health Care in this country. And there’s a good chance we’ll find that, rather than being a disease that threatens to kill off our socialized medical system, it may actually end up being part of the system’s cure.

Wow, did that ever feel good. I mean, as a good, solid Canadian, I think I was born with the same ingrained notion that our socialized health care system was the be all and end all. As dedicated Canucks, we’re subconsciously sworn to protect the system against all corporate comers. Verily, with Tommy Douglas’ visage emblazoned on our shields and with a rallying cry of “Medicare” we traditionally go charging into the fray against the oncoming tide of private interests.

Yet, while we all have our hand at the hilt, ready for battle, we have been known to take the occasional furlough into the enemy’s territory. Whether it’s someone taking a trip south of the 49 th for a replacement hip or cancer treatment, or perhaps we’ve gone to a private clinic to take a pre-natal test to determine the health of our unborn child. We happily fork over our hard-earned cash for the privilege of doing so.

Heck, even the leader of Canada’s left-leaners, Jack Layton, has availed himself of the services of a private clinic for a hernia operation. But instead of being vilified, he should be lauded by those who need the private system the most. Because when Jack headed off to the private clinic, he took himself off the waiting list and bumped everyone else up one spot.

So maybe one guy spent one less day waiting to have the agony of a hernia relieved. Maybe the trickle down effect meant that someone else got to have an operation on a Friday afternoon instead of enduring yet another weekend with that torturous bulge.

And, considering the vehement hand-wringing about wait times in our country, it’s time to lay down our swords and negotiate a truce – for the good of all.

As it stands now, hospitals are working under a system where there are funding caps for various procedures. When the quota has been met, the operating rooms are shut down, or the beds are closed, or specialists are transitioned into a lesser role because the funding and facility is not there to support their ability to perform their chosen job.

In the end, the lines get longer while the facilities remain dark, until the next quota period starts up. These underused facilities represent an underutilized resource and a lost opportunity to earn welcome ancillary funds.

The only danger private health care poses to our system is if it runs outside of the existing health care system. If it is controlled and facilities are provided and administered through the hospital, then some of the funds that are earned from the charges for private procedures can be diverted back into the public system. Not only will those who choose to pay for their services be taking themselves out of the queue for the public system, the funds their procedures generate will be able to improve the quality and level of service available to those using the public system exclusively.

This does not create a two-tier system when it comes to access. In this country, when you go to a hospital you receive the required care, regardless of whether or not you have the means to pay for anything. However, for elective procedures, or those that require advance scheduling, people who choose to elect for private services are, in fact, only paying for quicker access to the services. This does not mean that people relying on the public system will ever be denied access to a procedure – it just means they’ll have to wait their turn.

We live in a system where doctors have to restrict patients to a specified time frame, or to only one issue per billable visit. Our medical system needs an infusion of cash to help it heal. However, few of us are willing to pay more in taxes. So where does that money come from?

The private system, if administered by our existing health care providers, offers an opportunity to pump money into the public system. As long as the priority is placed on public access and the administrators can balance that mandate with the potential provided by the private care opportunity, we can reap a benefit for all. Our social medical system is sick, but if we remain steadfast in our opposition to anything even with the hint of privatization, then we have only ourselves to blame when the patient dies.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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