April 19, 2008



From: The National Post

Dying to save "The System"
By: Lorne Gunter

Published: Monday, February 18, 2008

For defenders of Canada's government-monopoly health care system, there is only one goal that truly matters. And, no, despite their earnest insistences to the contrary, that goal is not the health of patients. It is the preservation of the public monopoly at all costs, even patients' lives.

This week, the Kawacatoose First Nation, which has an urban reserve on Regina's eastern outskirts, announced it wanted to build a health centre there with its own money. Among other things, the band wants to buy a state-of-the-art MRI machine and perform diagnostic tests on Saskatchewanians - aboriginal and non-aboriginal - who currently face some of the longest waits for scans in the country.

This should be a win-win: Aboriginals show entrepreneurial initiative, without any financial obligation on the part of the federal or provincial government, and create well-paying high-tech jobs for natives who desperately need them, while at the same time easing the wait for MRI tests in Saskatchewan that can now run to six or even 12 months.

Each year, hundreds or even thousands of Saskatchewan residents - mostly middle-class - drive across the border into North Dakota and pay their own money for scans rather than wait for one at home. The Kawacatoose proposal would give them a much closer alternative.

So what was the reaction of the opposition NDP in Saskatchewan? Restrained contempt and veiled fear-mongering.

The restraint was a result only of the fact that this proposal was coming from aboriginals. Had a private, non-native company suggested the same thing, Saskatchewan's opposition socialists would have been screaming from the rooftops that greedy insurance companies and health profiteers are lurking under every hospital bed ready to prey on unsuspecting patients the moment they get the green light.

Still, despite their untypical decorum, it was easy to see the NDP's disdain. Health critic Judy Junor said such private facilities threaten the public system, even if they do not offer fee-for-service scans, because they poach staff from public hospitals. "You can buy the machine," she sniffed, "that's the easy part. It's who's going to work it on a day-to-day basis."

The Kawacatoose have said they will not permit queue-jumping by fee-paying patients at their clinic. Instead, they have the money to buy an MRI, and they estimate their band could make some much-needed money by performing scans paid for by the province, so they are seeking permission to go ahead.

Still, that is not good enough for Ms. Junor and her colleagues. The NDP sees any service provision not controlled directly by the government as a menace. That means health cannot be as high a priority for them as preserving the public monopoly.

During their 16 years in power - a string that ended just over three months ago - the Saskatchewan NDP refused to issue licenses for any MRI clinics not owned by government. In 2004, the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation proposed building one on its satellite reserve in Saskatoon. After three frustratingly long years seeking approval, the band gave up and went ahead with plans for an MRI-less clinic. Their members and the public will have to settle for second-best care because of the devotion of medicare's defenders to "the system," first and foremost.

By placing "the system" (and the well-paying jobs of NDP-voting union health workers) ahead of providing care for patients, the NDP have shown where their true loyalties lie.

It's the same across the country, and not just among New Democrats.

We are short 12,000 to 15,000 doctors in Canada because in the early 1990s, provincial health ministers - Tory, Liberal and NDP - desirous of preserving "the system," capped enrolments at medical schools. Doctors, they reasoned, are a major driver of costs with all the tests they order and treatments they perform.

The ministers knew that limiting the number of doctors would limit the amount of medical service available to patients. But they were prepared to accept that. They felt they had to limit costs to preserve "the system," so providing care Canadians needed came in second to the system's survival.

The nursing shortage, the sad state of high-tech diagnostic equipment outside our largest cities and the rationing of services via waiting lists are all examples of how medicare's advocates are prepared to sacrifice Canadians' health and comfort - even their lives - just so the public monopoly can be maintained.

Email comments to: lgunter@shaw.ca

Copyright 2008 - The National Post

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