Kermit the Frog & the Medicare Monopoly

Kermit the Frog reminded us, “It’s not easy being green.”
Likewise, it’s not easy being a patient in Canada’s health care monopoly.

And, it’s not easy being a Canadian minister of health.

But “it’s not easy” is no excuse when:
• The Medicare monopoly fails to deliver timely access to necessary health care.
• The Medicare monopoly denies Canadians choice in their own country.
• The Medicare monopoly underperforms while gorging itself on taxpayer dollars.
• Government sanctifies a 75-year-old health care model that has been rejected by the rest of the industrialized world.
• Government sanctifies a 75-year-old health care model and refuses to modernize it for the 21st century.
• Government puts political dogma first, ahead of patients.

Two stories. May 3, 2016. One from Alberta. One from Ontario.

Because of a special infant formula, Neocate, a three-year-old Alberta boy can now eat ice cream.
His “alternative” was a colostomy bag and or a gastro-intestinal tube. But are either world-class health care?

Thanks to a recent decision by the Alberta government, his parents and parents of other children with necrotizing enterocolitis and a cow’s milk protein allergy no longer will face bills for formula costing thousands of dollars annually. About 20 children in Alberta need the formula in any given year.

Isaac’s family paid $28,000 over two years for the formula – even after they won their appeal to have 80% of it covered by their personal drug plan, according to an Edmonton Journal report May 3, 2016.

Neocate now costs families about $690 per month. With the new coverage, families will be paying less than $150 out of pocket, said Alberta’s Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne.

Now, imagine if you are Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, who champions “bending the cost curve” of Medicare.

On one hand, Isaac’s medical condition aligns with – and perfectly illustrates – the concerns that Tommy Douglas had when he introduced Medicare. He didn’t want health care to bankrupt families or impose undue financial hardship.

On the other hand, even though $80,000 for the formula is inconsequential in Alberta Health’s $20.4-billion 2016 – 2017 budget, it offers insights into the decisions that governments must make about the coverage and sustainability of Medicare.

Across Canada, health care consumes 45 – 50% of provincial governments’ spending, and it is projected to be about 70% or more by 2050. This will mean fewer and fewer taxpayer dollars for other health-related programs such as low-income support, housing, seniors programs, education, and roads and bridges.

The promise of the Medicare monopoly is timely access to quality health care, which the Canada Health Act specifies as hospitals and medical doctors.


“Hello. I’m Laura Hillier.

The voice of the 18-year-old girl cracks in distress. She’s propped up on a hospital bed, eyes swollen from crying, lips stained red from bleeding lungs, according to the Toronto Star .

“. . . I’m in the ICU . . . I can’t breathe. Soon, a tube will be stuck down my throat again. And for feeding as well. And I won’t be able to talk. They said I may not wake up but I really hope I do. But if I don’t, I hope this never happens to anyone ever again. And that the government sees that there needs to be funding. Because people are dying when we can save them. We can save these people. Please help. Thank you.”

Laura, 18, from Burlington ON, recorded these words, shared for the first time, because she thought they would be her last. She died in January of a form of leukemia considered curable. But doctors say the health-care system failed her by forcing her to remain on a wait-list for stem cell transplant until it was too late.

But she couldn’t have been in better hands. Her own physician, Dr. Irwin Walker, is a Canadian pioneer of the stem cell transplant procedure Laura thought she would receive but never did.

Laura was one of hundreds of Ontarians tacked to the bottom of a too-long wait-list for the transplant procedure — a wait-list most patients didn’t know existed.

In a letter obtained by the Toronto Star, transplant program chiefs warn Cancer Care Ontario about:
• The “ethically not right” rationing of treatments that leaves patients dying on absurdly long waiting lists;
• About the program’s reliance on “medically unnecessary chemotherapy” to “buy time” until transplant beds became available; and
• About the “unseen victims” who could benefit from treatment but aren’t told of the option because referring physicians “tire of being turned down” for transplants.

Canada’s government-run health care system – Medicare -- is a monopoly that prohibits private hospital and private physician care. Medicare is a subpar performer, ranking 10th among 11 advanced countries. Canadians deserve much better! Patients deserve timely access to quality care and choice of hospitals and physicians. Taxpayers deserve much more value for their tax dollars.

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