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COMMENTARY · 20th December 2011
Merv Ritchie
One of this week’s current hot topics is the Canadian and Provincial Finance Ministers fighting over the medical system and the associated costs. Drug costs make up over $30 billion, over 15%, of Canada’s total Health Care budget. Canada has the second highest per capita drug costs in the western world. The USA has the highest.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney provided the freedom for drug companies to maintain their patents and charge more for the drugs during his time in office. Today his actions account for an increase of between 7 and 8 billion to the annual health care budget and a drug cost 30% higher than other OECD countries, a 70% increase (inflation adjusted) prior to Mulroney’s measures.

The truth is simple but never explained in depth because once again it all comes down to advertising revenue. The large pharmaceutical companies are one of the largest profiteers and therefore one of the largest providers of advertising revenue. Telling the truth is not in the best interests of the Mainstream Medias major revenue source.

Hospitals dish out pain killers and anti depressants like candy, but we cannot fault the nurses who simply follow the directions of the doctor. We also cannot fault the doctors because they are not provided the best tools to make timely and effective diagnoses.

These diagnostic tools need to be provided by the political arm of the medical system and these arms are run by lobbyists who are paid by the large pharmaceutical companies. A reduction in the use of drugs is a reduction in profits. It is a money machine they wish to maintain.

Currently the best diagnostic tool is the MRI, (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). According to BC Living Canada has the lowest number of these units per citizen in the developed world. These machines are able to immediately produce a tangible diagnostic result for a physician to administer the correct treatment.

Whether it is for immediate surgery or simply a course of antibiotics or pain medication, the MRI provides the best avenue for an answer.

Canada could cut the Heath Care budget quickly and substantially by increasing the availability of these units. Using BC as an example, just over $200 million could purchase 175 MRI scanners and provide a $100,000/year wage for technicians to operate them at a rate of two regular 8 hour shifts, five days a week. This would provide every BC resident the opportunity of at least one MRI scan every five years. An MRI unit can be purchased for 1 million (especially if ordered 50 at a time) and the required 350 technologist’s wages (two per unit) is another 35 million.

Even at more than doubling these numbers, half a billion is still only 1/32 of the total annual health care budget of BC. These units have an average life of between 7 and 10 years therefore amortizing the costs is an easy win.

These diagnostic tools would greatly reduce the number of unnecessary surgeries, reduce the amount of unnecessary drugs and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths. The savings in surgeries and drugs alone might recover for the entire half billion dollar costs. The decreased time patients spend in hospital beds due to the timely diagnoses and treatment could easily double these savings.

But this isn’t about saving money, it is about making money.

As the Provincial Finance Ministers argue with Prime Minister Harper’s appointee over funding, the real issue is not addressed. If Harper can demonstrate the Public Health Care system is not workable he can encourage changes and move to an American “For Profit” health care system.

Not providing the best diagnostic tools available, encouraging unnecessary wasted time in unnecessary surgeries and drug costs will assist the entire system in collapsing upon itself.

The City of Pittsburgh has more MRI machines than the entire country of Canada. Japan has 40 machines per million people. On average, Canada has about 5 per million. In BC 175 MRI units would still be less per capita than Japan. We should be embarrased but we aren't because we are not being properly informed. Our Finance and Health Ministers are not addressing the real issue.

The MRI may not always be the best, and when a better tool comes along that is what we should use. A bow and arrow will kill an animal if the user is skilled and has patience. The hunter that isn’t in it for the long term will use a high powered rifle and a scope. Keeping patients in the hospital on drugs and waiting for results is the bow and arrow method of health care.

Wasting arrows at unforgivable rates while waiting for the disease to walk out and show itself, usually long after the hunter himself has starved to death, is a good analogy to the style of health care we use today.

Canada’s health care crisis is entirely of its own making. The desire to do better is there but the industry, with the support of the Canadian Government, simply will not allow it. There is no profit in healthy people. Stephen Harper is only following Brian Mulroneys lead.
No Diagnosis - No Remedy - No Waitlists....
Comment by ts on 20th December 2011
With Chronic illness or injury left undiagnosed people can be kept at home on antidepressants at their own expense, no diagnosis means no specialist, no fix - less people waiting for help be it surgical or otherwise. Eventually, they will just die and be no ones problem - less need for Doctors, since we are short on them too anyways.

No help. No compassion, make them beg for pain releif, or better yet go into the emergency department at over $500 per shot for pain management. (I refuse to)

Obviously I am not claiming this is right, but it is happening and it is happening to me. It is happening to alot of people.