Canadian Care

Charles Coleman was a 63-year-old Canadian, who was told that he needed coronary bypass surgery ... or he might die. But over the next several months, Mr. Coleman's surgery was postponed 11 times. Once he even spent 2 weeks in the hospital waiting--only to be released and wait some more. In the end, Mr. Coleman had the surgery. But family members say the long ordeal had weakened him. And eight days later, he died. Canadian medicine is plagued with long waiting periods. The Christian Science Monitor reports that there's even an "underground railroad" that "smuggles" Canadian heart patients across the border to Detroit, where they can get faster treatment. In spite of all this, some Americans want to move Canada's health care problems down here. That's right. In Congress and in several state legislatures, there are bills pending designed to replicate Canada's government-run health insurance. Why does Canada's system appear so attractive? Because government insurance covers everyone under the same terms and conditions. When you visit a doctor, you never see the bill; it goes directly to the government. You never have to worry about whether you can afford it. To many Americans, this seems to be a compassionate way to guarantee access to health care for the poor--and that's a big issue in Washington today. But the reality of government-run health insurance is not so appealing. Canada, Britain, Sweden--every country that has government health insurance is plagued by long waiting lists and mediocre care. Why? Because when government fixes the budget, the incentive for doctors and hospitals is to emphasize low-budget services. Treatment for minor ailments like colds and flus is freely available. But treatment for serious illnesses is often limited. The result: People with serious illnesses are put on waiting lists. Some people literally die waiting. In Sweden, one cardiologist estimates that at least 1000 patients die annually while waiting for heart surgery. A Canadian surgeon quips that the risk of dying on a waiting list is greater than the risk of dying on the operating table. In spite of the down side, strangely enough, government-run health care is often popular. Canadians, for example, sincerely believe their system is vastly superior to our own. Perhaps that's not so strange, after all. Remember: A government-run system is tilted toward low-cost, minor illnesses. And what do most of us suffer from, most of the time? Minor illnesses. Sniffles and fevers. The proportion of the population suffering from major illnesses at any given time is very small. That means most of the people under a government-run system are getting the care they need--and they, at least, are happy. But let's be clear what's happening here. The happiness of the majority is being bought at the expense of the minority. As Christians we should be offended that a system like that is touted as compassionate. The American system has its problems, and I'll be talking more about those in the next few days. But if some people aren't getting health care, we don't solve that with a system where no one gets good health care when they're seriously ill. So next time you hear about the Canadian health care system, remember this: It works for everyone--except those who need it most.


Chuck Colson



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