Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Health Care fun times

Okay, so while Pres Obama is trying to talk people in the US into his brand of health care reform, I have a fun little story about the wonderful public system in Alberta. First of all, I will say that I have had very few problems myself, but I have only ever needed emergency care. I believe this province puts a great deal of money into Emergency and while that is good... the same level of care is not reflected in other areas.

In February of this year, my boss' husband suffered a heart attack. Really, he was on the verge of multiple attacks and things were grim. He was rushed to hospital and received surgery involving angioplasties. All done, and home again, then back to work. However, he is still experiencing chest pains and it was found that at least one of the arteries worked on is still 60% blocked. It is my understanding that he needs a bypass or at least another attempt at an angioplasty.... but guess what? One week ago he was told he cannot get the surgery until/unless he has another heart attack!

Wow. So his prize for surviving another heart attack will be surgery (if he survives - I pray that he will). What happened to preventative care?? Only a few months ago he was in hospital with doctors, nurses and surgeons all over him helping him out. But now they can only stand by and wait for another attack? While knowing it's only a matter of time? Why not do the surgery NOW? If cost is the province's concern, wouldn't it actually cost LESS to do it now instead of involving all levels of emergency care too? Or are they waiting to see if he will die instead and then it will be FREE for them? I honestly have no idea what the hell they are doing. This man has paid his premiums and taxes for 33 years of working for the city, and now he is sitting there with a ticking time bomb in his chest. His specialist knows he needs the surgery and wants him to have it, but basically said his hands are tied and this is 'just the way it is'. Wow. I have been speechless about this for a week and have only been able to stomach writing it out today.

Why does this happen, do you think? And if it's an issue of cost (which it must be because I can guarantee you that the operating room is not booked 24 hours a day, every day!!), imagine what those missing health care premiums could have done by now. Last time I checked, it does not cost a million dollars to do heart surgery - so please explain to me why premiums were cut? One month alone would have brought the province over 44 million dollars. ONE month. It's been 6 months of no premiums now. You do the math, and then explain to all these patients around Alberta who are waiting for major surgery why they can't have it. It makes absolutely no sense at all. I never used to listen to what I thought of as 'Conspiracy Theories' but this is one I can't help but believe now ---- They take away the premiums because if it's free, you can't complain.

Could that not be true here? Sure my boss' husband has been paying all these years, but he hasn't for the last 6 months. He can't say 'I PAY MY health care! I want this surgery!'... because he does NOT pay now. None of us do. You can stand up and yell and scream that you need this surgery before you die, but you don't pay for it. It's free, so you are totally completely at the mercy of the system now. That is revolting and disgusting. I have been trying to hard to warn some of my US friends that Canada's system is not all it's cracked up to be - but they refuse to listen. It concerns me. We have 10% of the US population and can't make this work right for everyone.

I saw an I-Report on CNN recently where an american woman talked of her time living in France and how she wasn't working but got very sick and got excellent care and it was totally free. Yes. That is awesome, of course it is -- but CNN failed to add in that doctors in France make a small fraction of what they make in the US (the report I saw said an average of $55,000US/year). It failed to announce that France has been in a deficit for it's health care program since 1984 (another report I read online). It failed to announce that 'patient satisfaction' polls have been slowly starting to droop over the last few years. It did not report the income tax differences between France and the US to pay for the program. Etc Etc. There is good and bad about every system, but this is being peddled in the US as the answer to all problems and it just plain isn't. It is not wonderful for everyone. It is not perfect. And there IS rationing. It should not be a triage system from one end to the other - if you need a surgery you should be able to get it. If your heart is ready to explode and you could die, you should be able to get it fixed BEFORE having a heart attack. What the hell is the point of going for tests and checkups if you might find out about a problem, but not be able to get it worked on for a year?

I have friends that work at the hospital and I hear often about how there are entire days many times a month where no one is in the OR at all. No one. No surgeries, unless an emergency comes in. So why are people waiting 1-2 years? What the hell is up with that? Oh yeah - it's because the province can only approve a certain number of surgeries every month/year because of funding. If my boss' husband had the choice - he could pay the hospital directly and get in there, get it done, and be out.... Who does it hurt if the OR is empty anyway? It would also shorten waiting lists if some people could choose to pay directly for their care. It is not about the rich getting treatment before the poor - it would shorten the waiting list for EVERYONE. If my boss' husband paid for his surgery and got out of there, and 5 other people did the same, would everyone else on the list not get bumped up?? Of course they would - maybe they would wait 3 months instead of 6, or 6 months instead of a year. But we do not have that option in Canada. Why not? I do not understand. And I do not believe a system is working if a man needs a heart bypass and cannot get it until his ticker collapses on him one more time... if he dies I think his wife should sue because they KNOW he needs this and have told him, but the province will not approve the operation.


  1. That's tough Kez.. best wishes to your boss.

    You know, we do have a two-tiered system, right now. If you boss has the coin, he can book himself a surgery in the U.S., no problem.

    Jack Layton doesn't like to acknoweldge that.

    There are actually brokers in Canada, who for a fee, will find you private care in the U.S., and many Canadians utilize it. They take their money, and they go spend it in a hospital in the U.S.

    So - the suggestion that we can't have a "two tiered" system is a myth. We already do. It's just that, because of travel and other expenses, the "TOP" tier is higher than it would be if a doctor was just doing the same thing in Calgary.

    Oh - regarding premiums, the reason for that is simple. The public believes there IS a free lunch. So - they demand that they don't pay premiums and the government responds.

    (But here's the sad secret, there is NO free lunch, and the public is paying, one way or the other.)

  2. lol well I did tell them that they should head for Montana, or eat at Taco Bell and fake a heart attack in order to get the surgery. So far he has decided to live it up and go on holidays every other weekend, golf til he drops, etc. But if the US changes to a similar system, are we still going to be able to go down there? I have no idea what will happen with that.

    It's just frustrating to pay into the system for over 30 years as a municipal worker, only to be told you're not able to have the potentially life-saving surgery you desperately need. I am glad a lot of money gets funneled to Emergency Care, I haven't had problems and have gone through a kidney stone, rare shingles, and a premature infant, all with pretty darn good care,,, but in a few more years when I'm a bit rusty around the edges, am I going to be pushed aside? I don't understand that... it seems that the longer you pay in through taxes and our former premium system, the less care you could end up with. Frustrating and sad, to say the least.

  3. I came across your blog by accident and read this piece and would just like to add this:
    As an adult US citizen who is fortunate enough to have health insurance I can understand the frustration your boss is facing. But that does not mean our system is better. As an adult US citizen who happens to be a decent human being I will say that it is incredibly frustrating to have children die everyday in this country because HALF OF THIS COUNTRY HAS NO HEALTH INSURANCE! So therefore they get shoddy or no health care. The US Federal Law states that no one can be turned away in an emergency room yet it happens everyday or worse, they are left to die in the waiting room because they have no insurance. And if you think we with health insruance aren't paying through the nose because of the treatments that are extended to those without insurance, you would be wrong.
    Yes, you are paying through taxes - we are paying through premiums and rising high costs. Comes out the same except your people can all get help because you all have some form of health insurance - ours cannot. And elderly and children die every single day beacuse of it. People delay going to the doctor because of it. People lose their homes because of it. what is supposed to be a wealthy civilized nation.
    So don't be so quick to think our way might be better.

  4. Thanks anonymous. I don't actually think the US system is 'better', I think it's a world wide problem no matter what kind of system there is - however, many people in the US think our system is 'better' but the truth remains that it is not. Yes we can go and have treatment without insurance - but you can die during the waiting times as well. My friend's mother was booked for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her lung in Oct a few years ago. The hospital then realized it was a holiday weekend (our Thanksgiving Monday) and they rebooked her -- for FEBRUARY. In those few months, the cancer spread throughout her body and she died shortly after surgery. It is impossible to know if she would have lived if the surgery had been performed on time, but the chance was totally taken away from her in our 'universal' system. People I know have lost their homes as well because while waiting 12-24 months for surgery, they could not work and disability/EI was not enough to pay their rent or mortgages. My mom's close friend had to move in with her sister because her shoulder surgery took over 2 years to be done.

    There are reports this week that Alberta is over 1 billion dollars short for their budget - there are only 3.5 million people in this province! That's the 'short' amount, not the total amount. It truly is astronomical and the govt cannot keep up. My mother in law is suffering from Carpal Tunnel syndrome and can hardly function some days now, but it is still several months until her consultation with the surgeon, let alone when she will actually GET the surgery.

    I just warn that if already the US cannot afford to give it's people health care, how is it going to provide it for even more? If a family is already destitute, how are they going to afford higher taxes to help pay for it? There are many ways to look at this. Something needs to be done in the US for sure, but following Canada, Britain, etc is not the answer is it? If we already have major problems and debt?

    The reports this week also say that in Ontario (I'm assuming around Toronto), the waiting time in Emergency is 25.5 hours. HOURS. omg... That is unreal! If you are extremely ill or had an accident, you will be bumped to the front of the line most likely, but it's a chance you have to take and don't know until you actually get there.

    In my city, many doctors are becoming increasingly frustrated with the system and are finding other routes such as cosmetic laser surgery, fat reduction techniques, botox, and so on. This ends up taking appts away from people trying to see their doctor for basic health complaints, but the docs are pissed off and fed up with having the govt dictate their every move and I don't blame them for expanding.

    We have two doctors here right now in their early 40s who are already burnt out and are retiring. That leaves about 5000 more patients in my small city without the care of a general physician, and forces them to line up at walkin clinics and ER. A new clinic opened here 2 weeks ago and all the doctors are already full and not able to take new patients. It is ridiculous.

    The US needs to sort out it's mess but what gets me is the president and others constantly talking about how much of a money drain Medicare/aide is --- if THAT is a drain, how can a bigger system that is similar NOT be a drain? Is it not an expansion of that same program? That makes no sense to me.

    Children and elderly die every day with our system too. People die waiting for surgery, people lose their homes waiting, people have no family doc to ensure consistent care.... imagine trying to organize this for over 300 million people when we can't seem to sort it out for 30 million. Scary.



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