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On Canadian Health Care –From “Bear in the Woods”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The latest from our favorite ad exec, and particularly relevant given the president’s comments on Canadian health care today:

This isn’t about advertising. It’s about experience. Some of which, I feel I have to share. If you think it’s worth it, please forward this post, or cut and paste it, and email it. may end up on a “fishy” list, but, whatever. It’s too important not to share. And it’s the true story of some of my experiences. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on tv. I don’t know all the proper terms for what I’m about to describe. But I do know what happened, because I was there.

My wife is Canadian. So are my kids. The kids are American, too — they have US Birth Abroad papers, and yes, they have birth certificates. They have passports from both countries. I met my wife while shooting in Vancouver. She didn’t want to leave just because we were getting married, so i lived there for 3 years. Those three years changed my views about a lot of things. Health care is one.[# More #]

I went into it with an open mind. After all, I’m not Canadian, so i wasn’t paying for it. I paid if I needed to go to the doctor. The prices were really low, because they were government-subsidized. One pretty big emergency room visit for a kidney stone cost me CDN $500. Not bad, in comparison. Of course, Canadians picked up the rest of my tab. Boy, did they ever.

One of the reasons I never became a Landed Immigrant (Canadian equivalent of a Green Card) was because I didn’t want Revenue Canada near my paycheck. My business was in the US, and the IRS is plenty, thank you. Back then, which was almost 10 years ago, I think it was CDN $35,000 or so that was the beginning of the 50% bracket. (I do not know if that number is accurate. It could be higher. But it’s really, REALLY low, compared to our highest threshold.) Now, add Provincial (state) income tax to that. Note that you cannot deduct any mortgage interest, or much of anything, from either. Then add a national GST (Goods and Services Tax) to everything you buy. On top of that, add PST (Provincial Sales Tax) to everything you buy. AND add special provincial and local taxes to purchases of special things, which aren’t, typically, all that special, and actually cover a lot of the things you buy. One special thing, for instance, is gasoline. I just got off the phone with my brother-in-law, who can’t remember, exactly, but he thinks gas is about $1.09 right now in Vancouver. That’s for a liter of gasoline. A LITER. Which would make it over $4.00 a gallon. And that’s not too bad, these days, he says. If you smoke (I don’t), the tobacco taxes will kill you before cancer will.

So, what do all those taxes buy you, in the form of health care? Well, let’s talk about that kidney stone I had. If you’ve ever had one, you know immediately why I went to the emergency room. As it turns out, growing up in Florida, and as a member of my particular family, means I’m predisposed to more. Looking forward to that. Anyway, this one was my first one, and it hurt worse than anything had ever hurt. I didn’t see a doctor at the ER, but the nurse (or PA – I don’t know for sure) was able to give me some Darvocet, and a prescription for more. I also got an appointment with a urologist for the following week, which was a fast-track exception, because I was a foreigner. A week later, still a bit dazed from a growing Darvocet habit, I got to see the guy, who was really nice, and was hoping to move to the US to practice, so he could make a decent living. He told me I’d probably pass the stone, and would simply need to take the Darvocet until I did. If, however, I didn’t pass it in about a week, they’d have to think about breaking it up with ultrasound. I’d heard about this from my dad. Apparently, it’s pretty quick, and totally painless — the machine breaks up the stone into small bits with sound waves, and you pass the bits easily. Most US hospitals, and a lot of clinics, have a machine to do this. The only hitch? In all of BC, there’s one machine. This is a place about 125% bigger than Texas. Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada. And there’s one machine. It travels the province like a roving minstrel. It wasn’t due back in Vancouver for 6 more weeks. I passed the stone two days later. Thank God.

The brother-in-law I spoke to tonight is an interesting story. Seems his tonsils reached the point, about 3 years ago, when they simply could not do their job anymore. In fact, they began to cause serious infections. So serious that, more than once, he had to be rushed to the hospital, and kept for several days. He required IV for fluids, and for drug delivery, while in the hospital — and was listed as critical on both occasions. The doctor informed him he required a tonsillectomy as soon as possible. Until he got his tonsillectomy, there would be, he was assured, more hospital visits. The first available date for him — a guy in his 20s — was two years away. For 9 months, in order to stave off infection, he did an outpatient plan where he went to the hospital 3 times a day, every day, to receive treatment via IV. (Once every 8 hours.) A week on the plan, a week off. Doesn’t seem like a cheap, or pleasant, experience to me, but what do I know? Luckily, his tonsillectomy got fast-tracked, and he was able to get it after only 9 months of this regimen. Nine freakin’ months. Makes the expense of ice cream and cowboy pajamas, and the week of quiet, back when I was five and had my tonsils out, seem — I dunno — quaint.

I have a lot of stories like this. More than I can write here, and way more than you’ll read. And I only lived there three years. Stories about my wife, her mom, more brother-in-law stories, some pretty scary ones about my kids, and a particularly sad one about my wife’s grandmother. Most aren’t life and death — the grandmother one is — but all of them illustrate a health care system that’s inefficient, and reduces choice — because it’s run as a government bureaucracy. I tell the funnier ones because there are plenty of truly scary ones already out there. I didn’t want to be accused by the YouTube lady at the White House of spreading disinformation. Hey, this is comedy. Of sorts. I do want to tell one more story, though. Because it illustrates how socialized health care — socialism in general — reaches beyond the doctor’s office:

One night when my son was six months old, he had a raging fever that went beyond normal baby fever. My boy is, well, feverish, so it wasn’t a completely unusual thing — but this one was unusually high, and climbing. Unfortunately, we were out of Infant Tylenol, which had shown past success in bringing his fever down. So I went to the store to get some. Now, we lived in a suburb, about an hour from downtown Vancouver. It was about 9:30 p.m., so the only nearby store that was open where I could buy Infant Tylenol was the big Safeway, which had a good pharmacy. When I got to the cold medicines isle, I found that the Tylenol, including Infant Tylenol, was locked up behind a plexiglass door on the shelf. I was no stranger to locked OTC medicines — I’ve lived in New York and Miami, and I know that people steal stuff. Especially drugs. So i asked the clerk if she could unlock it so I could buy some Infant Tylenol. She looked at me like I was from Mars.

“Oh, no, Hon — the pharmacist has gone home. She leaves at 9:00. She has to be here for us to sell it.”

Well, that’s a stupid rule, I thought. And I said so. But, it’s not a rule, she assured me. It’s the law in BC. That’s right — the law. Never mind that even if the pharmacist had been in the store, she wouldn’t have a clue what I was buying — or even that I exist — because when she’s there, it’s unlocked, and it’s four isles away from where she works. You can buy it at a regular register. That is, as long as the pharmacist is in the building. Why? Because somebody might have a question. This is Infant Tylenol, for cryin’ out loud! What is there to ask?

We ended up calling an ambulance when my son’s fever reached 103F (still can’t do Celsius) and continued to climb. We had an emergency room visit, where, you got it — Infant Tylenol — brought the fever down, and he was ok in an hour. Well, thank goodness we took the economically efficient way out of that one. The Tylenol at the Safeway might have cost us $25 or $30 (remember all those taxes…). But the ambulence and the ER were FREE. Well, ok, the Canadians paid for it somehow…..

Incensed, I went back to Safeway the next day to see what, exactly, I can’t buy when there’s no pharmacist on site. Cold medicines, of course, can be dangerous, so what else is too dangerous for people without proper guidance? Turns out most anything with any kind of medicine in it. Tegrin Medicated Shampoo, is, apparently, dangerous. So is Oxy-10 facial scrub. And the list goes on, and on, and on. It’s funny, in a very sad kind of way. Socialized medicine leads to socialized over-the-counter medicine, which leads to socialized zit medicine. It, itself — socialism, I mean — is a disease.

I know this post is long. But the stories are worth repeating. Because the issue is big, and it’s complex, and it has unintended, and intended consequences. Our elected representatives don’t want to read the bill, because they don’t want to know, or hear about those consequences. Or because they do know, and they believe those consequences are perfectly acceptable, in the name of increased control of our choices, and our lives. I won’t pretend that the US health care system is perfect. It’s not. But it’s a hell of a lot better than what exists in Canada. And anyone who tells you different is either lying, or just plain wrong.

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