Tuesday, June 28, 2011

And the Gurneys Continue to Stack Up in Canada...

As we celebrate our long Independence Day weekend, I thought about the increased number of accidents and ER incidents typically predicated by usual holiday activities, and how life would be different if we, in the US, were subject to a socialized, government-run health care system.

The ObamaCare Health Care Reform Plan has long been compared to the government-run Canadian Socialized Health Care Program. There are some facts that we, as Americans, may not know.

Before we get into the down and dirty, I'll start with a true story as told to me by my friend, Mark. This incident occurred four years ago:

Mark's American aunt married a Canadian. They maintained two residences, one in Florida and the other in Toronto, Ontario. Mark's aunt was diagnosed with cancer while in Florida. They decided to have her tests performed there, but move to their Toronto home for treatment, as they qualified for Canada's socialized health care.

So off they went to Toronto. They took the required steps of first seeing a 'Primary Care Physician" to obtain the required prescription to see a Specialist. Even though they had the test results from Florida in hand, they had to satisfy Canadian law. Yes, LAW. The wait to see the specialist was 5 weeks...a wait time regarded by Canadian health care to be one on the 'short' side.

Mark's aunt died three days before her scheduled appointment with the specialist.

We don't have 5 week wait times in the US. In an emergency situation, a simple call to your doctor's office can get you seen the same day. In a US hospital ER, those more serious injuries are seen more quickly than those less seriously injured -- not necessarily so in the socialized medicine world.

I recently went to hear a Canadian-educated MD speak about both sides of the health care issue. He used to practice in Canada, but since moved to the US for many reasons. Let's just get right down to it.

Facts about the Canadian Health Care system:
1. Single payer system - government
2. Comprehensiveness
3. Universal
4. Portability - you can use it wherever you are in Canada
5. Accessibility - "reasonable access"

What is covered:
1. ALL hospitals are publically funded (by taxes, and are government-run)
2. Physician costs (are not set by doctors, but are determined by removed, non-medical parties)

What is not covered:
1. Prescription drugs - 10% of health care costs (CURRENTLY A CO-PAY IN MOST US HEALTH CARE PLANS)
2. Medical equipment - wheelchairs, etc. (CURRENTLY PAID FOR IN US BY MEDICARE)
3. Allied health providers - physical therapy, podiatrist, chiropractor, independent living help, etc. (CURRENTLY COVERED OR A CO-PAY IN MOST US HEALTH PLANS)

Common Fallacies:
1. The number of US uninsured has not changed since the 1970's. The population has grown, but the percentage is still between 16-17%.
2. There are actually more insured Americans than ever, but currently 14M legal Americans are without insurance, not by choice.

Points of interest and concern:
• Costs for pharmaceutical drugs have doubled, and represent 10% of current US health care costs.
• US government currently pays 45%* of medical costs.
• Canadian government currently pays 70%* of medical costs.

Participating in the Canadian health care plan requires a primary care physician, but there is a shortage of doctors in Canada due to restrictions because:
• Canadian government decides where doctor will practice, depending on their specialty.
• Government imposes ratio. When it's reached, it's capped.
• Government imposes restrictions on hospitals, based on funding. No funding, no care, and the hospital will close.
• Government rationing of ER and all other departments -- gurneys stack up in hospital hallways if there are not enough (funded) beds in the hospital.
• CAT Scan, PET Scan, radio therapy, etc., requires first seeing a primary care physician, then inside specialist 8-16 week wait. Then 4-8 week wait for tests. Total wait time can be 6-12 months for the scan.
• The doctor/patient relationship is key to well being, but has been disrupted by the Canadian health care plan.
• Significant caps on fees.

Socialized health care is dictated by the system (budget), and not the needs of the patient.

Once a highly regarded and respected position, Canadian doctors are now regarded as government employees, and no longer garner the respect doctors in other countries enjoy. There has been a significant reduction in Canadian medical school enrollment, creating a shortage of doctors. The 'best and brightest' no longer are attracted to this career choice, so the 'lesser qualified' are gaining entry to medical schools -- and graduating. The end result is lower quality of care.

There's even more decline in Canada:
• Crippling diseases still exist in Canada -- and they shouldn't.
• There are no longer research or drug companies in Canada, and only two manufacturers of vaccines in the world (one in the US).

The Law and Costs:
• Private insurance is ILLEGAL in Canada -- Doctors are fined, jailed and will lose their license to practice in Canada. Patients are fined and jailed.
• Care is not free, and has no known value (you're not writing the check).
• The less doctors do for you, the more money is left in the 'pot' for them to continue to work before reaching the cap.
• Cost shift from medical care to disability -
10.1% Canadian GDP (gross domestic product)
16% US GDP
Disability and unemployment costs are not figured into GDP.
• Canadian government charges values to keep budget balanced, meaning if one month has high costs, the available funding will be reduced the following month in order to keep the budget balanced.

If this system doesn't work for 33 million Canadian citizens, who would think it would be viable for 307 million US citizens?

*Suggestion to fix US Health Care: Eliminate the 3rd Party
US bureaucracy/administration/regulatory micromanagement is responsible for 1/3 of our medical costs. If we cut the micromanagement of our current system, our costs would be in line with those of the Canadian socialized health care plan -- and we would still enjoy high quality of care.

Oh, and the doctor who provided this information has been asked to return to Canada to practice. He has less than zero motivation to do so. He enjoys freedom to practice in the US, to get paid his self-determined fees, to live a high quality of life, to enjoy respect of patients and peers, and to be grateful for the privilege of living and working in the United States.

Happy Independence Day!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dr Drew On the Death of Jeff Conaway: "Jeff is another pharmaceutical death from the overutilization of prescription drugs."

We lost Jeff Conaway -- a tremendously gifted (and under-acknowledged) Broadway, TV (Taxi) and film actor (Grease), who recently became well known for his history of substance abuse.

Dr Drew Pinsky treated Conaway on Celebrity Rehab, and recently commented that there is no evidence showing Jeff died from an overdose stating, "This was aspiration with overwhelming pneumonia and sepsis."

Dr Drew also said Jeff's condition was inevitable because the actor had been a serious abuser of prescription drugs for years, and the constant substance abuse wore down his body.

Question: Who's monitoring the patient?

This story is nothing new. Anyone could read this and name at least a dozen other people who've died prescription drug-related deaths in recent years. So if we are aware of the problem, why does it continue? Have we really become this irresponsible?

It has been reported time and again that the US loses more people to overuse of prescription drugs than to auto accidents:

When will it stop? When people are educated to cope with their issues using other (and safer) means.

Don't rely on anyone (or our government) to teach you how to take better care of yourself -- especially when any education may even slightly suggest the reduction of pharmaceutical use. It's up to each of us to step up, take responsibility and educate ourselves, our families and communities how to better manage our own health and well being.

It may surprise you to know that medical doctors do not receive nutritional training in medical school. They are taught to use pharmaceuticals as routine first line treatment. That said, I don't suggest going off drugs your doctor has prescribed for you without their knowledge. I do suggest learning about other means to assist with a given health issue. There are plenty of resources available -- especially with internet access. Seek the help of a naturopath, nutritionist or other holistic practitioner in your city who can assist with optimizing your lifestyle choices. That's right -- choices. There are usually plenty of choices in many cases -- many people aren't aware of them until they investigate their options.

So, dare to think outside the box, and find very simple, very available, and very inexpensive safe alternatives to assist with a myriad of health issues.

In the very best of health,