Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spinning The Wheel With Our Health

Two recent stories personify what, for me, is a big problem with our Canadian health care system.

Now before we go there, let me just reiterate that, yes, I am a proponent of our health care system. Call it socialist, hell, call it communist, if you must. I really don't care what you call it. I call it a good system. **

Good, but not perfect.

First, we have the case of the Cape Breton woman who has spent the last 16 months in Toronto awaiting a double lung transplant. Although the provincial health care system pays for her medical costs, they don't pay for her non-trivial non-medical expenses.

The family has sold off their car, four-wheeler and boat to help pay for her travel and living expenses, but money is quickly running out. Although the community has held fundraisers and the Lung Association has also pitched in, the family estimates that they have now spent $35,000, a bill which would have been even higher except that Marilyn MacKay has been able to stay with a nephew in Toronto. The fear is that unless something is done Mrs. MacKay will have to return home by the end of January and lose her spot on the transplant list.

Liberal MLA Michel Samson tabled a private member’s bill on Friday that would require the province to pick up the non-medical expenses of people who have to leave Nova Scotia for medical procedures that aren’t performed in the province. Apparently Newfoundland and Labrador already cover such expenses for patients who have to go out of province for treatment. The bill says the patient would have to be outside Nova Scotia for three or more months before the program would kick in.

Will it pass?

The second story involves catastrophic drug coverage. Or more accurately, the lack of such coverage. A Prince Edward Island Man has cashed in a small pension and now has his home here up for sale to cover the cost of a drug required to shrink a large cancerous tumour in his kidney before doctors can operate. A 28-day supply of this drug costs $7,532 and the full course of drug treatment prior to surgery could cost $45,000.

Although the community has held benefits for Mr. MacMurdo, which are greatly appreciated by the family, such benefits alone won’t solve the problem. Ultimately it’s going to have to be covered by the government. The family has an online petition requesting the province add the drug to its formulary. The province meanwhile, the only one other than New Brunswick without a catastrophic drug program, is pressing the federal government to create a national program.

Sadly, neither of these stories are unique or one-of-a-kind.

Consider this, about 600,000 people in Atlantic Canada have no drug coverage. One in nine Canadians are not protected against high drug costs and this proportion increases each year. And many new targeted therapies for severe illnesses are not automatically covered by the public health system because they are taken outside the hospital.

The way I see it, the responsibility for remedying these situations lies firmly in the court of both the federal and provincial governments.

Each province must have, at a minimum, catastrophic drug coverage and must cover at least some of the, so-called, non-medical costs of patients who are forced to travel elsewhere for treatment. Although there are, admittedly, problems with catastrophic drug coverage, at least it would be better than nothing.

And at least a portion of the funding for such programs is going to have to come from the federal government. Heaven knows they collect of our tax dollars. Heaven knows we've listened to enough promises for long enough. Heaven knows this has gotten to the point of ridiculousness and Canadians are fed up with it.

I suppose the only thing heaven may not know is how much longer Canadians will put up with this. And what will happen next.

** Yeah, I might just have a small chip on my shoulder when it comes to that particular subject.

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