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Rationed health care in Canada

Big thank you to CKNW’s Lynda Steele for having on her show this week to talk about our new health care video (featuring Jenny Mckenzie’s long wait for hip surgery in Vancouver – click here to watch).

You can listen to our discussion via CKNW’s audio vault (February 28 @ 3:00PM).

During the discussion we talked about the idea of “rationed” health care – a model whereby the government controls how much citizens receive of a particular good or service. (Similar to how the North Korean government rations food supplies to its citizens).

In Canada, provincial governments fund hospitals and health regions each year. If a hospital’s budget for procedures like hip replacements and knee surgeries runs out before the year is done, patients on the waiting list are out of luck.

They either have to wait until the government provides the hospital with more money the following year or the patient can leave the province for faster care. Currently, the B.C. government is trying to block citizens from being able to use their own money to pay for treatment at private clinics.)

During our discussion with Lynda Steele she played a short clip from an interview with a surgeon from Surrey. I recommend listening to the clip (click here) as the surgeon describes health care rationing; there are tons of surgeons in Canada who are twiddling their thumbs as governments will only pay them to do so many surgeries each year. Oftentimes the surgeons have the time, and the government has rooms available for surgery, but the latter won’t fund more procedures.

Of course, this problem is not unique to British Columbia.

If you take a look at this CBC story, the first line of the article describes the same problem occurring in Alberta:

“Doctors in Red Deer say their patients face unnecessarily long waits and are suffering needlessly because of a cap on funding for hip and knee replacements.”

Dr. Keith Wolstenholme told the CBC that his patients wait an average of “two years” from the time they are referred until the time they get their joint replacements. This obviously has a tremendous impact on patients.

The CBC described Bradley McEwen’s experience. In short, McEwen was on a waiting list for hip surgery for “months” in Red Deer before he got fed up with the wait and flew to Quebec for surgery at a private clinic; costing him $20,000.

Before the surgery, McEwen noted he was at the point where “I couldn’t get up the stairs. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t lay. I couldn’t do anything. I was done, I was finished.”

After the surgery, everything changed:

“And I walked away — no pain. As soon as they do the surgery, the pain stops.”

Until we see true health care reform in Canada, patients will continue to face long waiting lists while others simply throw up their arms and leave the public system in search of faster care … wherever that may take them.


Colin Craig is the President of

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