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In a Direct Line - Photo by Ulli Diemer

Columnist traumatized by having to wait his turn

By Ulli Diemer

The National Post – a newspaper which fills its pages, not with news, but with the peevish grumblings of right-wing cranks – never tires of attacking that evil socialistic plot called medicare. A recent whiny piece by columnist Jonathan Kay exemplifies the “horrors-of-socialized-medicine” genre.

This particular horror story – Kay calls it his “run-in with the system” – begins when he shows up at his local hospital’s emergency room with an infected knee. The trouble is with his left knee, he tells us – reinforcing his belief, no doubt, that anything on the left is unreliable and troublesome. The inefficient socialistic health care system sends him off for treatment within ten minutes – not too shabby, most of us might say – but it takes a lot more than efficiency and high-quality appropriate care to please a National Post columnist. Soon he is lying in a public hospital bed, intravenous clindamycin trickling through his veins, and thoughts about how much nicer a private hospital bed would be flooding through his brain.

Mr. Kay returns to the hospital the next day for a follow-up treatment, and this time – the horror! – he has to sit and wait before he’s seen. In fact, he tells us, “all but the most acute cases” have to sit and wait their turn. There is – hard to believe, but it’s true – no special queue for the affluent and the privileged, not even if they are National Post columnists. So Mr. Kay sits and seethes. Yet he is not totally without sympathy for others: he feels sorry for the triage nurse, whose skills, he proclaims, are being squandered having to deal with “surly immigrants and delirious seniors”.

If only we had private health care, he moans, “middle-class people like me could pay for prompt treatment and then spend the rest of the day at work or with their family, instead of reading a Stephen King novel and breathing in other people’s germs in a hospital waiting room”. If only – if only! – we had private emergency-room service, then “people with some money to spare would plunk down their Visa cards and get fast, dignified service”.

Let the people who don’t require prompt dignified service – the people who aren’t middle-class and don’t have “money to spare”, the “surly immigrants and delirious seniors” – let them spend their time breathing in other people’s germs. People like that don’t have families they’d rather be with, or other things they’d rather be doing with their time.

As it happens, the same week that Mr. Kay paid his visit to the emergency room, I found myself in another emergency department in the same city with my mother, who had been admitted for an infection. My mother is one of those people – an immigrant and a senior – whom Mr. Kay would like to shove aside so that he can plunk down his Visa card and get fast, dignified service.

But here’s a shocking piece of news for Mr. Kay: most Canadians feel that immigrants like my mother and me, and seniors, and the poor, are just as deserving of prompt dignified health care as are those who, like him, are more well-off. We’re appalled at the idea that access to care should be prioritized not on the basis of need, but on the basis of who walks into the hospital with the biggest wad of cash.

Most Canadians understand that the pretense that private facilities would take the pressure off the public system is just a con job to hide the fact that a two-tier system means better care for the affluent, and worse or no care for the rest. The obvious fact is that private clinics don’t add a single doctor, nurse, or technician to the health care system. They just hire them away from the public system by offering them more money. It’s a zero-sum game in which the affluent win and the poor lose.

If Mr. Kay can buy himself quicker care by waving his credit card or a wad of $20-bills, my mother will have to wait longer for her care.

No thanks, Mr. Kay.

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Subject Headings: Bureaucracy - Canada Health Act - Canadian Health Care Myths - Health Care Access - Health Care Costs - Health Care Costs/Comparative Systems - Health Care Funding - Health Care in Canada - Health Care in the United States - Health Care Privatization - Health & Class - Health Determinants - Health Insurance - Health Sources - Insurance/Health Services - Medical Insurance - Medicare - Private Clinics - Privatization - Public Sector - Single Payer System - Socialized Medicine - Universality - User Fees