By Arthur Weinreb, Associate Editor
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recently elected Vancouver orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Day, as its president for the 2007 term. Day, who owns a private clinic in B.C., is in favour of more private involvement in Canada's health care system.
Hopefully by having someone who is in favour of private involvement or private public partnerships (PPP) in the country's health care system as the head of Canada's 62,000 doctors the role that the private sector can play in health care can be kept front and centre. Day's presidency might also help put to rest, the "big lie" that proponents of a totally public health care system have so successfully portrayed in recent years.
The "big lie" is that we now have a totally public health care system and any involvement with the private sector will lead to an "American style" system where the streets will be littered with the bodies of uninsured lower income people who were deprived of life saving procedures because they couldn't afford to pay for them. At most, what we will end up with is the model that many European countries now have; parallel private and public systems.
Of course, contrary to what many critics say we do not have a totally private system now. Many services are rendered by private health care providers and depending on the province of residency, many medically necessary services (such as optometry in Ontario) have either never been covered by the public system or have been delisted.
The "big lie" was used most effectively by former Prime Minister Paul Martin during the 2004 election campaign. (For those who may have forgotten, Martin was a prime minister of Canada who held office between Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper). While Martin's own personal physician owned a private clinic in Quebec, Martin accused Harper and the Conservatives of wanting to bring in "American style" health care when some Tories refused to defend a system that was 100% public. This argument didn't help Martin during the 2005-6 campaign for no other reason than Canadians had a chance to observe Prime Minister Martin in inaction and concluded that he just had to go; there were no drastic changes in many people's beliefs about private involvement in public health care.
Those on the left who oppose any private participation in health care are solely ideologically driven. They put ideology ahead of people. While many on the left sneer at young Americans who sacrifice their lives for their country they see nothing wrong with Canadians giving up their lives and dying on a waiting list. The whole notion of the use of private public partnerships in the health care system is to reduce wait times and give Canadians more efficient medical care. Sadly, many on the left can only define their country by whether or not medically necessary services such as MRIs are delivered by the private or public sector.
Dr. Day's election as president elect of the Canadian Medical Association will hopefully keep the debate going. And, if we're lucky, some of the myths surrounding our health care system will be reduced or eliminated as the debates continue. We need to have serious discussions about the state of the Canadian health care system that are free from the overblown rhetoric of people dying because they cannot afford care.