Spending a few months rotating through a private facility, I found it unconscionable that patients needing urgent medical care were turned down at the door if they did not have medical insurance. I spent as much time treating lacerations and gunshot wounds as arranging immediate transfers to county institutions. I found it disturbing that the richest country in the world had a medical system that favoured only the wealthy and insured.
At the end of my year at UCLA, I ran into my senior resident after he had written his qualification exams. I knew he had passed, so I was surprised by his sullen mood. He told me that his wife had recently become sick and needed the expertise of a particular surgeon, one that his HMO refused to cover.
During my long drive back to Toronto, I was excited about completing the final years of my residency at home. I looked forward to the prospect of being able to triage patients based solely on their medical condition, rather than their financial capacity to pay. I was excited to rejoin a medical system that genuinely cares for all its citizens.
When Tommy Douglas first introduced equal medical access to Saskatchewan in 1959, few at the time could predict its success and integral role in defining part of our Canadian identity. But even with this history of success, our system seems to be under constant attack from critics in the public and more insidiously from within the uppermost ranks of the Canadian Medical Association. The inaction of Stephen Harper’s government and the track record of his health minister demonstrate a genuine lack of commitment to this ideal.
We possess a health-care system worth fighting for. We need to take control. We need to wrestle it out of the hands of those who cast doubts and spread fear and would sacrifice a system that benefits all Canadians so that a select few can profit. Our health-care providers are arguably the best trained in the world and our infrastructure attempts to deliver these services to all Canadians in a timely fashion.
Remember, we all share responsibility for maintaining Canada’s health-care system:
Health care is not free, but because we never pay directly out of our own pockets, there is a tendency to treat it as such. Our hard-earned money, in the form of taxes, funds almost every aspect of its delivery. Use it ethically and responsibly. Be proactive instead of reactive regarding your health. Regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, smoking and alcohol cessation, and regular hand-washing are all inexpensive measures that, in the long run, will save our system a lot of money. The environment is directly linked to our health. We all need to take personal responsibility for its preservation. With impending federal and provincial elections, make your voice heard and your vote count. Remind politicians and decision-makers that there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to universal health care. Remind politicians and decision-makers at every level of government that women’s, children’s, community and social service, and educational programs all have a direct impact on our nation’s health. Funding cuts to these programs undermine and jeopardize the health of our collective future. Recognize and reward sincere efforts to improve our system, like the joint effort by the Ontario provincial government and the Ontario Hospital Association to reduce wait times for investigations and procedures.
Thinking back, it makes sense that my chief resident couldn’t understand a medical system like ours. Growing up in California, he could not comprehend a system that provides the highest standard of care to all its citizens regardless of socio-economic status with decision-making unfettered by third parties like profit-centred insurance companies and HMOs.
We need to continue our proud medical tradition in this country and I hope there will never ever be a “medically indigent Canadian.”
Now this kind of a health care system is what I’d rather have the Dems–both in Congress and us voters across the nation–be fighting for, instead of fighting to end the insane war in Iraq (‘tho i’m doing what i can on that front, too). MassCare here at home and HealthCare-Now on the national level need our help toward this end.