A Health Care System That's the Envy of the World
The following events did not take place in the Soviet Union or Cuba. None of this inhumanity was a figment of my imagination. I'm narrating the details without hyperbole.
Recently, I took a ride through one amazingly affordable health care system — the one Obama and other notable Democrats paint as the "envy of the world." See how quickly you can figure out where this envy of the world dwells.
Got your seat belt on? This liberal utopia is a bit bumpy.
You enter a hospital emergency room. For two months prior, you suffered abysmal pain, unable to shower, straighten out, or sit. You're the Hunchback of Notre Dame, debilitated with no reprieve. When one of your legs isn't numb from hip to toe, you experience sharp stabbing sensations that make you want to slit your wrists.
Yet you do exactly what your nation's one-tier medical system instructs you to do: you visit a family doctor who routinely suggests an MRI. And since you live in the proud lap of liberalism, which ensures the all-inclusive equity of suffering, you are told that your MRI is a mere twelve months away. A referral to a spine clinic was offered at a six months' wait. Lucky for you, a generous dose of an opioid was prescribed in the interim. The 60 Oxycontin pills (the most addictive opioid on the market, with a street value of $60/pill) were augmented by 270 pills of Gabapentin, a drug designed to deceive your brain into thinking you are not in pain. You walk away a guaranteed addict with a pocket full of mind-altering chemicals.
By now you should be entirely consoled by the idea that many are in the same boat of egalitarianism for suffering and queues. The thought of equitable misery is expected to work as an instant pain-reliever. This barbaric philosophy is at the crux of government policies that outlaw private health care in this country.
This is how my friend's journey through the cartel of socialist policies began.
As Amy tried to figure out how to take her next breath without screaming, she decided that a 12-month wait is simply inhumane. She did what most people of means do: she arranged a private MRI. A diagnosis of bulging spinal discs pressing on nerves in the lower spine resulted. Amy, now $692 poorer, was always guaranteed health care when she needed it — that is, if she didn't mind croaking from pain first.
In Amy's country, an average annual income of $60,900 pays a health care tax bill of $5,516 for the privilege of the "free" health care perk. In 2016, an average family sent 42.5% of their income straight into government coffers, out of which health care funding is allocated. Top earners pay up to $37,361 annually for their shot at the "free" emergency room queues, MRI waits, and specialist appointments.
More is spent on taxes by households than on anything else in Amy's country. This exuberant taxpayer funding of the public health care utopia known as the "envy of the world" is today Bernie Sanders's and Kamala Harris's main advocacy platform all the way to 2020.
Amy's journey continues…
Addictive and mind-altering pharmaceutical chemicals are all Amy has at her disposal. No back specialist or treatments are on the horizon.
After a several days of continued suffering, with no relief from prescribed opioids, Amy, now in a wheelchair, heads to the nearest emergency room. Official wait time is recorded as two hours. In reality, the two-hour wait was simply the time needed to get through the three separate points of admission. Bureaucracy requires it.
Amy enters a second waiting room, where she waits three more hours. Ten hours later, loaded with more addicting opioids (Hydromorphine and Tramadol), Amy is sent home. She is told that average wait time to see a back surgeon is between 18 and 24 months.
Next come two more visits to emergency rooms out of sheer desperation and helplessness. Amy knows that these emergency rooms rarely do more than prescribe drugs and lend a sympathetic ear. But when you have no other choices, you seek relief even where you know there isn't any.
After each visit to an emergency facility, Amy is prescribed more addictive medications and told she needs to learn to manage her pain. Amy understands that "managing pain" is code for "living with pain." Continuing this regime of ineffective addictive pill therapy is, likewise, synonymous with "there are no resources, no treatments, but you're welcome to become a drug addict and not waste our time ever again." None of the drugs prescribed works. Amy is told average time for surgery she needs is up to three years.
Amy finally realizes that private care surgery is the only option. It's the end of the line; she has to take control of her health, regardless of the public system's incompetence and lack of resources.
A few days later — another trip to an emergency room by way of ambulance service that refused to drive her to a hospital with a spinal unit. Amy waits four hours. In the meantime, she's generously offered more opioids for her pain.
After six agonizing hours, Amy is admitted. Once again, the wait begins. At 3:00 A.M., a doctor on duty shows up, exactly eight hours since Amy was wheeled in.
Once at Amy's bedside, the good doctor utters, "There's nothing we can do for you here. You should've gone to the other hospital with a spinal unit. But don't tell anyone I told you."
Amy's visit ends with a fresh prescription of meds and a refill for more opioids. Not even a hint of the word "surgery."
The next morning, Amy's pain gets worse. She's in the hospital again. This time, a twelve-hour wait before she is seen. When the neurosurgeon arrives he offers, "We don't do surgery for your condition. I'm happy to put you on a waiting list to see a back specialist. If you're lucky, the average twelve-month wait might expedite to a three-month wait." Amy's visit ends with more helplessness, more crying and desperation.
As Amy became completely bedridden, I made the case for private surgery south of the border, in Florida. It was her only option for survival. A ten-hour flight to Florida wasn't feasible in Amy's condition. But an underground private clinic in a close-by city one hour's flight time away was perfect. The cost of surgery? Twenty thousand dollars.
Three days after the original idea for private care, I picked up Amy from the long awaited surgery, able to walk and talk without groaning and crying. Only hours after surgery, she was cracking her usual jokes.
Amy's story doesn't quite end here. For lack of any good alternatives, this very Canadian (there you have it!) public health care mess more than charitably fed Amy all sorts of opioids. Today, my friend is courageously fighting an opioid addiction — an addiction not one medical professional warned her about.
Unless you live in Canada and have the dubious pleasure of experiencing the one-tier system of finding a family doctor, wait times in hospitals, wait times for imagery exams, wait times to see specialists and wait times for treatment or surgery, you can't really appreciate the true meaning of the word "affordable" in Canada's very affordable public health care. Canada's single-payer public health care system, heavily funded by taxpayers, forced over one million patients to wait for necessary medical treatments last year. An all-time record in a country of only 36 million. The only thing Canadians are guaranteed is a spot on a waitlist.
Trouble with "affordable" and "free": both are very expensive.
Valerie Sobel is a writer, economist, and pianist residing in Western Canada.