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Canada's No Model for U.S. Health Care

Monday, 10 September 2001 12:00 AM

The ascension of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to the chairmanship of the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, where Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sits as his closest ally on the issue, means that the backdoor drift toward "Clintoncare" will continue. For years, Kennedy has labored to bring socialized medicine to America. Hillary, sadder but wiser since her first effort on the issue failed miserably, is seeking an opportunity for vindication.

Unfortunately they, along with others in the Congress, are looking to Canada's system of universal health care for a solution, lunacy of the highest magnitude. There is no question that the U.S. health care system needs work, but the answer to America's problems does not lie in the unmitigated disaster that exists north of our border.

Having learned valuable political lessons from the failures of previous efforts, Kennedy, Clinton and others are this time approaching it incrementally, hoping that no one will notice.

Currently, even the most liberal Canadian politicians label their national health care system a failure, screaming for complete overhaul, and even suggesting market-based solutions.

Canada calls its program a "one-tier" health care system, which sounds good, except the reality is that everybody gets virtually no health care, but on an even basis.

The problems for Canada's sick people come from several fronts including lack of access to drugs, shortages of doctors and other healthcare professionals, and the elimination of hospital bed space.

Last summer in Newfoundland, the Minister of Health announced that that some health care facilities would be closing between May and September. These hospital bed closures were reportedly to "accommodate staff vacations".

Ontario has a critical shortage of radiation therapy machines and technicians. This year, not a single new graduate qualified to be a radiation technologist. The one lone radiation clinic in all of Manitoba reported last summer a waiting list 371 names long. From April 1999 to July 2000, over 1,400 patients in Ontario were sent to the U.S. for treatment at a cost to Canadian taxpayers of $15,000 - $20,000 per patient. This was the reality of free Canadian health care.

As a cost containment measure, Ontario doctors are paid under "billing thresholds," meaning they are paid by the number of patients they see regardless of time spent or comprehensiveness of the care provided. If they hit the limit, they must send "overpayments" back to the government. In the first seven months of 1999, 251 Ontario physicians went over their limits and sent checks totaling $7.2 million back to the government.

There is currently a major battle raging between the provinces and the Canadian federal government -- the primary source of funds for Canada's national health plan.

In 1995, the Canadian feds cut the provincial healthcare budgets by $45 billion. In response, Ontario limited the number of enrollees to medical schools in an effort to cut costs. Combined with a burgeoning population, retirement of older doctors and a mass exodus of medical professionals to the United States, the province is now facing a perilous doctor shortage.

The provinces are battling the federal government for the return of those health care dollars. The feds say the provinces will get the money back as soon as they reform the system. The provinces counter that they will reform the system as soon as they get the money. In the meantime, patients in some provinces are waiting one month to see the General Practitioner, and up to seven for CAT scans, MRI's and other diagnostic test that take only a few days to receive here in the United States.

Taking a new spin on negative ads -- one government entity picking on another -- Ontario has recently spent $3 million on an advertising campaign designed to shame the feds into repealing the funding cuts.

The national government in Ottawa countered with a $2 million campaign of its own beating up the provinces -- with the taxpayers picking up the tab for all this bickering, while waiting months for the attention of someone to their medical problems.

Last year Alberta Premier Ralph Klein signed into law a bill allowing private clinics to compete for public healthcare money.

Saskatchewan's former premier Roy Romanov now heads a commission examining the future of the Canadian system and already states that he is not opposed to a private-public system. Canadian politicians, few of them conservative, now acknowledge that the system that was for so long was a sacred cow that none dare disparage, is really one that gives no milk.

As healthcare moves to the forefront once again in the United States, U.S. liberals still look to Canada as the model the Washington should seek to replicate. As Canada moves towards increased privatization of health care, Senate Democrats want America to shift its health care model to where our neighbors to the north have already been -- and are desperately trying to escape. This would be bad for our national health.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The ascension of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to the chairmanship of the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, where Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sits as his closest ally on the issue, means that the backdoor drift toward Clintoncare ...
Monday, 10 September 2001 12:00 AM
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