Health Care: A Silent, Simmering Election Issue

The one issue most important to Canadians, or at least in the top two, is kind of being ignored. Health care affects every Canadian, yet only NDP Leader Jack Layton has brought it up. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is barely being covered by the media but I did manage to cup my ear and receive faintly the message that the Greens will introduce Pharmacare. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did a cringe-worthy photo op (the man does not do compassion like Princess Diana did). And I haven't seen Conservative Leader Stephen Harper say anything (he must've said something and I just missed it, right?) at those carefully orchestrated rallies where he tries not to talk to the great unwashed via the smelly media who's always against him, don't you know. He only talks to pumped-up partisans because they like him, they really like him. And they never ask questions requiring a quick wit, a good memory, and a skin that thrives on challenge. But I digress.

Health care reform -- if you can use that word, more like Health Care mickey-mouse step -- galvanized the people and the politicians in the US recently. Here, we face a crisis both in dollars and competency, yet it's barely a blip on the evening news. In the past, we've had reports be released with great fanfare and media coverage about how health care in Canada needs to be reformed. We've had stories in The Toronto Star about people being denied health care because medicare won't fund expensive drugs, drugs that are funded in other provinces. We've had the MS story which revealed the crisis in research both in innovation and dollars and exposed the unbelievable petulance of the neurologists and surgeons who think their patients ought to obey, not seek out new treatments they didn't dream up, not direct their own care; and if they don't do it their doc's way, then tough, they won't help em if they return from their surgery abroad and have complications -- because, you know, medicine is all about ego not about helping the suffering. We've had stories about health care teams trying to force their opinions on well-informed patients or parents of wee patients instead of encouraging participatory medicine and working towards the common good of the sick one, thus wasting dollars fighting instead of helping and making a difficult situation worse. We've had stories on surgical waiting times, but only on the sexy and non-gross surgeries.

Yet we've also seen people on Twitter yawn in the face of the election. And why is that? Because the red door and blue door politicians are pretty much ignoring an issue simmering in the public's hearts, and the media aren't doing a good job covering those politicians talking about it, and the public would rather yawn and complain in private than protest loudly, persistently.

I would never want US-style medicine here. I've experienced it twice under car insurance accident benefits, and it was hell. I was constantly fighting for the right to get well because some bean counter didn't want to spend the money.

Yet the current Canadian way rewards the idiots as much as the geniuses. It creates fragmented medical records, and doesn't discourage specialists from working in isolation, refusing to talk to the family doctor or even to each other, a real problem when you have a complex injury like mine or the kind of illness that affects many organs or systems not just one. The attempts to fix waiting list times have only benefitted knees at the expense of shoulders and less-sexy problems like bowel disease. Imagine having to go to the washroom at least 12 to 30 times a day (not to pee by the way), but you gotta wait months and months and months for help or surgery because medical care for your condition has been cut back so as to fund more knee surgeries? And I bet you thought overall funding had increased so as to increase care? Nope.

Hospital administrators grow fat in territory and dollars as nurses (aka beds) are cut back, as medical services are reduced, as those who provide care not administer it grow lean. No matter what, the admins know the provinces will feed their appetites because there are no monetary repercussions if patients die or suffer for lack of medical care. Meanwhile private clinics who allow everyone to approach and receive care, regardless of income (because, you know, medicare still pays), are painted the bad guys so that the government won't have to stand up to the big hospital admins and work-to-rule unions.

But nobody is talking about this one issue that is draining our tax coffers, is growing increasingly incompetent, is becoming less able to treat our very sick and suffering citizens.

Our election a yawn-fest? Only because the red door and blue door don't want to awaken the masses and perhaps lose seats in the firestorm; only because the media aren't taking the initiative and asking and asking; only because the media are covering Layton's pronouncments on health care as a by-the-by piece; and only because the public aren't crying out but waiting for someone else to say something.

Maybe if Canadians weren't so comfortable, they'd get over their fear of speaking up, of protesting in the streets, of signing petitions and writing their MPs, local candidates, the leaders, and favourite newspaper demanding a voice, demanding to hear what the parties are going to do to reform health care in Canada.