Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Canadian Socialized Health Care: Free, but Costly

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Canadian Socialized Health Care: Free, but Costly

Article excerpt

Health care in Canada has long been a source of national pride. Canadians boast about free hospital visits, universal coverage, and inexpensive drug prices. The Canadian system has been praised in medical journals and idealized through newspaper editorials, but is free government health care for all a viable alternative to the privately owned American system?

Spyros Andreopoulos, director of the Stanford Medical Center News Bureau and authority on the Canadian health system, writes that health care costs now account for one third of the budget of Canadian provinces. He says that the federal government has reduced its contributions and that political pressures and red tape are standing in the way of across-the-board reforms.

In the late 1980's, the province of Alberta had spent more than $3 billion on health Care alone, but when the government leaders called for changes in medical payment methods, they were shouted down and the issue was dropped.

The idea of private insurance to offset the costs was rejected as being in direct opposition of the philosophy of universal health care. This has forced hospitals to cut costs in order to stay viable. Doctors have taken to placing patients on as many waiting lists as possible. Many Canadians who can afford it travel to the United States for some nonessential procedures.

In 1999, the Ontario government had to bail out its hospitals, which had accumulated a deficit of nearly $200 million. It was the second year in a row that the hospitals were in the red.

That same year, the province of Ontario faced a doctor shortage. Its health minister committed $11 million to attract up to 1,000 new foreign doctors.

In Montreal, there was a fight to keep emergency departments open in 2002. General practitioners in that city were forced to fight a bill that would fine a doctor $5,000 for not coming to work in an understaffed and underfunded hospital. The doctors won their battle, and the emergency rooms remained open, but instead of facing fines for not coming to work, the government must pay them bonuses for showing up.

A common argument against private health care is that the uninsured usually postpone doctor visits until the problem is serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit, which is typically more expensive than a preventive checkup with the family doctor. …

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