Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What does Brian Day say (or not) about privatized medical education?

In August, the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution during its annual meeting in Montreal calling for “public-private partnerships to facilitate the expansion of medical school capacity.” According to Brian Day, an orthopaedic surgeon and immediate past president of the Canadian Medical Association, Canada has a single-payer problem in medical education and in payment for physician services, which he said means “splitting up a pie that’s not big enough” resulting in a “rationing of resources.” During a talk to the University of British Columbia Clinical Faculty Association in October, he emphasized that Canadian health care is underfunded, and he predicted that, consequent to the Chaoulli decision, all provinces will follow Quebec`s lead to allow private funding of medically necessary services.

According to Dr. Day, private funding is needed: “That’s the way we’re going to get better health care for more people and how we’re going to get better funding for medical education.” He gave examples of private funding for medical infrastructure in Vancouver: the Jack Bell Research Centre, the Pattison Pavilion of the Vancouver General Hospital, and the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre. “This is all private money going into ‘public health care,’” he said, but if he meant to illustrate how the profit motive can enhance health care, his examples failed him. All three of these buildings, which are part of the Vancouver General Hospital clinical, education, and research campus, were named for prominent BC philanthropists.

I join Dr. Day in applauding the generosity of these donors, and I hope that wealthy people will continue to enhance medical research and education in Canada through charitable giving. But donation is not the same as investing in health care funding and delivery in order to generate profit. Surely the distinction does not escape Day, so his confusion is puzzling. Furthermore, he mentioned none of the problems that commercial health care can bring, which Dr. Marcia Angell presents in a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal essay. You can read more about peer-reviewed research on the downside of privatization on the CDM Web site.

As the meeting drew to a close, Day pointed out that Canada has too few physicians. Given a physician density of 2.1/1000 compared with a mean of 3.1/1000 among OECD countries, few would argue that Canada should not train more doctors. Day then brought up the proposal of a new medical school situated in BC’s Fraser Valley and affiliated with Simon Fraser University. This is the best thing that could happen to the UBC clinical faculty, he said, because UBC has a monopoly. He suggested that clinical faculty, some of whom are unhappy about UBC’s unwillingness to bargain with them collectively, would be better off if another institution provided competition. When an audience member asked about the role of a public-private partnership in the venture, he said the medical school would likely be in Surrey, BC and added, “I know more than I can tell you.”

According to two members of the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences, the medical school they and their peers envision would promote primary care and community medicine. Brian Day is not known as a champion of these issues. He founded a private surgical clinic, and during his remarks, he said that once Canada eliminates wait lists, medical tourism can develop as a “big industry” to provide procedures for well-off foreigners. This would be a source of funding for domestic health care, but he didn`t go so far as to say it could also create profit for investors and clinic proprietors, such as himself. Before the meeting ended, Day and some supporters obtained a hasty vote, with as many abstentions and nays as yeas, in support of the concept of a second medical school in BC.

Do we need more medical graduates? Yes, and UBC has just expanded its entering medical class to 256 students. It’s unlikely that the province will support another medical school right away, given the establishment of campuses in Prince George, Victoria, and Kelowna. Private money may be necessary to open a second faculty of medicine, but private-school graduates would come away with high debt, and if Day’s vision of commercialized payment and delivery prevails, perhaps an indoctrination.

Randall F. White, MD

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More on Howard`s complaint and its significance

by Randall F. White

Melvin J. Howard wanted to build "the largest privately owned health center in Canada.” According to documents filed with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, he incorporated Regent Hills Health Centre in January 2003 in the province of BC. The original plan involved purchase of 9.5 acres in Vancouver, and he had begun securing financing and undertaken negotiations with the Canadian firms DGBK Architects and Ledcor Construction, Ltd. The scheme involved a Delaware company which would raise funds by selling bonds through Ziegler Capital Markets, a U.S. investment bank specializing in health care financing, "exclusively to American citizens, funds and companies." The loan would have passed through TD Bank in Vancouver, but the money would have flowed from and to the United States.

The Regent Hills Health Centre intended to offer outpatient surgery, laser dentistry, diagnostic imaging, physical and occupational therapy, ambulatory and medical education programs. The 215,000 square-foot building would have housed 14 operating rooms and 110 beds. Nowhere in the documents is a mention of how many physicians and nurses would be needed, how they would be recruited, or any acknowledgment of the peculiarities of health care financing in British Columbia such as the Medical Services Plan.

Howard wanted to open Regent Hills in February 2007, but given the dates on the documents, his plans in Vancouver have been derailed for some time. In the NAFTA complaint, Howard alleges obstruction of permitting by "municipalities or city officials," and loss of deposits on contracts to purchase 5 separate land parcels. Documents suggest he may have shifted his plans to Surrey after Vancouver denied him permission. Furthermore, he mentions "community activist (sic) opposing the private surgical center."

All this indicates that Mr. Howard doesn't give up easily. He is angry, aggrieved, and perhaps grandiose. But according to Todd Grierson-Weiler, Canadian attorney who specializes in NAFTA arbitration, Howard’s submission is amateurish and has little chance of advancing. As for his threat to invoke the General Agreement on Trade in Services, according to Ellen Shaffer of the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health, only the U.S. government could initiate this action against Canada. Unlike NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, which administers GATS, does not permit investor-initiated actions against member states.

So perhaps this is a tempest in a teapot, but dismissing the “NAFTA bogeyman,” as Grierson-Weiler does, fails to acknowledge the crucial lesson. U.S. corporations are not going to give folksy Canadian entrepreneurs a free run. If a market in health care develops in Canada, multinationals like Minneapolis-based United Health International will be at the ready, and for them, NAFTA will be an essential tool.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Melvin J. Howard’s determination vs Canada’s ambivalence

In their evident ambivalence about a publicly funded, semi-privately delivered health care system, Canadians and their politicians have given an opening to a manic businessman. Arizona health care entrepreneur Melvin J. Howard, who has alerted the world to his bipolar disorder on his Web site, is portraying himself as an underdog in the effort to establish commercial clinics in Canada. He vows to continue his fight “no matter what obstacles get in [my] way.”

In May 2008, Howard wrote on his blog that he would file an investor’s complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because “municipalities or city officials can and have put up numerous roadblocks such as zoning and by law requirements” that prevented his company from establishing a clinic in British Columbia. He cites recent developments in Canada, such as the Supreme Court’s Chaoulli decision and legislation in Alberta, as evidence that the time is ripe for private health care investment in Canada. Who can blame him? The government of BC has all but cheered on the establishment of commercial clinics and for-profit surgical centres

Howard, however, is not content with using the leverage granted investors by NAFTA. In his September 20th blog posting, he wrote, “I am calling on the WTO [World Trade Organization] to wade in on our trade dispute with Canada. In arguing to keep health care off the table Canada claims to have exemptions on their public health care system. At the same time they demand the right to export their own health care services and not allowing any imports; is that sending a message of double standard? I think so.”

Howard is referring to the fact that Canada has included commercial health insurance in its commitment under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Canadian multinational insurance corporations have access to foreign health care markets, but foreign insurers are excluded from insuring medically necessary services in Canada. He also points to the existing privatized aspects of the Canadian system including home care and long-term care, laboratory services, and dental care.

As some commentators have pointed out, including Luke Eric Peterson, who broke the story in Embassy newsweekly, Melvin J. Howard’s Centurion is not a huge U.S. health care corporation like Aetna or Tenet. But he’s surely not the only investor who has watched the hypocrisy and complacency unfolding in Canada. The result is murky and confused policy, which may be the intended effect. The province and the country are in the grip of politicians who believe that markets provide solutions; public administrators and governments are impediments, or at best, conduits for the flow of tax payer money to private enterprise.

Nearly every Canadian who advocates for more commercialization of health care also proclaims opposition to a U.S.-style system. U.S. entrepreneurs and investors backed by NAFTA and GATS, however, have no aim other than making money; why should they change their business to accommodate "Canadian values"? Canadians may not be able to have it both ways, and Melvin J. Howard seems to have a personal mission to teach Canada a lesson.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Montreal, Canada's commercial health care capital

In an opinion editorial published in the Toronto Star on September 3, Dr Robert Ouellet, president of the Canadian Medical Association, advances the idea that Canada can develop a European-style health care system with a public-private blend. This fallacy is promoted by politicians and pundits who are enamored of markets as the solution to our problems. But Canada is not in Europe, does not have a European-style social welfare establishment, and is party to a trade treaty with the United States. Once health care becomes a commodity in Canada, U.S. corporations will demand entry under NAFTA and the future of our health care system will be out of our hands, despite Dr. Ouellet's soothing rhetoric.

While it's frustrating for physicians to face an unresponsive bureaucracy, Quebec provides a cautionary tale of what may happen when entrepreneurs take matters into their own hands. Quebec radiologists established imaging clinics independent of the health care system, albeit with the province’s knowledge. The government then let itself off the hook for certain outpatient diagnostic exams, and these medically necessary procedures were delisted (which is illegal under the Canada Health Act). Patients now must pay out of pocket for these tests, and many buy commercial insurance "just in case."

Because markets and investors demand constant growth, established commercial clinics and health insurance will seek to expand into other areas. Dr. Ouellet is a manifestation of this—he is using his influence as the president of the Canadian Medical Association to advocate for more commercialization of health care.

Meanwhile, weeks after neurosurgeon Dr. Phillippe Couillard resigned as the Quebec minister of health, Persistence Capital Partners announced that he had accepted a position as partner. The Montreal firm is, according to its August 18 press release, “Canada’s first private equity fund dedicated to investing in healthcare businesses.”

When publicly questioned about the implications of his hopping from operating room to provincial cabinet to private investment firm, Couillard said, "It's perfectly in line with what I've been advocating for years - a strong public system, well-funded and well-organized." As his legacy to the well-funded, strong public system, Couillard handed health care investors a gift in Bill 33, which promotes outsourcing to private clinics as a solution to excessive surgical wait times.

Both of these doctors insist that their efforts to commodify medicine demonstrate their devotion to public health care. Some physicians find this disingenuous. Medecins Quebecois pour le regime public issued their response to health care commercialization in Quebec during the August 2008 annual meeting of the CMA in Montreal Quebec may be different, but when it comes to health care opportunism in Canada, it is unfortunately not unique.

Randall White, M.D. FRCPC

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Re: Betting your health on Canada's doctor lottery - National Post

Kelly McParland's August 7 editorial, "Betting your health on Canada's doctor lottery," suggests that doctors leave Canada because of the health care system. Undoubtedly some do, and some highly trained surgical specialists can earn significantly more in the United States. But what about U.S.-trained physicians who come to Canada because of the system? They exist and I am one of them.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, more doctors returned to Canada than moved abroad in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Perhaps they were lured by low administrative costs, low malpractice insurance rates, and guaranteed payments. And if Canadian doctors think "government interference" is a problem in Canada, wait until they have to struggle with insurance companies for payment, have their patients' treatment dictated by insurance industry bureaucrats, or find they must treat patients for free. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that relies on charity care for a large proportion of its population. In Canada, I can treat all patients without having to worry about whether they have insurance coverage.

The assertion that all or even most U.S. physicians "practice the best medicine possible without government interference" is wrong. The U.S. government funds close to half of health care, and that money comes with many strings attached. The insurance industry has plenty of strings attached to the remainder of health care financing. I've been there, I know, and I'm glad I'm now in Canada.

Randall White, M.D., FRCPC

Friday, July 4, 2008

Re: Medicare debate under a cone of silence, Toronto Star, June 30, 2008.

By Dr Nan Okun, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist, Mount Sinai Hospital

As a practicing physician and a recently elected board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare I struggled immensely with Ms Hébert’s editorial on the current state of health care in Canada. Medicare debate under a cone of silence

A relative newcomer to the politics of health care, I, along with the women I care for in my practice have been recipients of the inexplicable volatility in political decision-making that has defined how I am able to deliver care. From the heady 1980’s when the sky was the limit, to current times when “balanced budget” supersedes patient needs, I have wondered why politicians in this relatively rich country have had such difficulty delivering on a publicly funded medicare program that Canadians have repeatedly said they value highly.

Ms Hébert states that the departing Ontario and Quebec health ministers “leave behind a system whose root problems have ultimately defeated their efforts.” I would argue that it is not the system that has the problems; rather the problem lies with those that administer it being influenced by factors other than the vast majority of citizens that support the program and elect the governments.

Contrary to her assertion that “no federal party has ever had the courage to do for medicare what Stephane Dion’s “green shift” is about to do for climate change”, was it not the federal governments of the 1950’s onward that successively crafted the development of the current universal coverage that Canadians have the privilege to participate in, culminating in the Canada Health Act of 1984? Perhaps it is the lack of courage on the part of current governments to uphold it in the face of seemingly overpowering corporate pressure to reduce taxes at all costs, resulting in our perceived inability to protect and care for all Canadians in a publicly funded, single payer scheme of health care.

There have been commissioned and widely researched plans that would go a long way toward ensuring the sustainable future of medicare (eg Romanow Report on the Future of Health Care in Canada), but those in government appear not to be listening. Therefore we really haven’t given these plans a chance “to deliver truly sustainable results” that Ms Hébert refers to. That is different than saying that the plans themselves have not delivered those results.

She is right about escalating relative spending on health care. As many health care analysts and economists have pointed out, when overall social spending is drastically reduced as it has been of late, the relative proportion spent on health care will appear to be out of control. It is a true shame that we “devote twice as much to health as to education” as Ms Hébert points out. But the shame is in the relative decrease in proportional spending on education. This speaks volumes about the value that our governments place on two basic commodities that should be provided to all citizens in such a developed country.

Finally, I would love Ms Hébert to clarify what she means by the “different medicare mix” that no party has “had the guts to make the case for”. If she means the introduction of private for profit funding then we should hear one convincing piece of evidence that such a system would benefit all Canadians, not just those able to pay.

If there is doubt about what Canadians think about publicly funded health care, check out the recently published Dominion Institute survey ( on the 101 things that we think define being Canadian. Whether categorized according to general public, immigrant, educator or order of Canada recipient, universal health care is in the top six.

The political cone of silence is likely not an accident. It allows the behind-the-scenes steady erosion of the Canada Health Act, created “to carry out the primary objective of Canadian health care policy, which is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.” (Canada Health Act Annual Report, 2006-2007)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Doctors,nurses, perfusionists, and other personnel in short supply

By Randall F. White, MD, FRCPC
29 June 2008

At St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, where I practice, 50 heart surgery cases have been cancelled since April 2008. The spokesperson quoted in The Province on June 26 said that the hospital sometimes lacks enough perfusionists to keep the cardiac operating rooms open. The opposition health critic in the legislature blames the government for its 2006 decision not to fund a perfusionist training program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

A few days before, The Province newspaper reported that BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver has cancelled 50 surgeries since April because of a shortfall of at least 10 intensive-care nurses. The same week, The Globe and Mail reported that a small town in BC is so desperate for doctors that it is raising money to build a new health clinic for physicians who have yet to be hired. The public is painfully aware of the physician shortage. The 2008 Health Care in Canada survey found that 19% of people named it second only to wait times as the leading problem in our system.

In January 2008, the Canadian Medical Association launched a campaign to raise political capital for increased domestic training of physicians, an appropriate advocacy issue for Canadian physicians. But at the same time, the CMA leadership, including president Dr. Brian Day, advocates for a second tier of health care. They haven’t explained how this second tier would be staffed given the immediate need for 26,000 physicians to bring Canada up from a ratio of 2.1 doctors per 1000 population to 3 per 1000, the mean among OECD nations.

Doctors aside, private hospitals and clinics require nurses, perfusionists, and other personnel who are in short supply and who require expensive, lengthy training. These facilities would take such personnel from existing institutions, including St. Paul’s Hospital, BC Children’s, and the others that serve most Canadians. Wealthy people who can afford to pay a premium could avoid wait lists and cancellations while the rest of Canada would endure even more such failures of the public system.

This pattern occurred in Australia after the introduction of a privately funded, privately owned tier of hospitals. According to the Australian Medical Association, wait times and crowding in the public hospitals have reached a crisis. The same would happen in Canada; in fact, we have a crisis despite having no official second tier. So let’s forget tier two, train more health professionals, and make our existing system work better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sceptical Reflections on the BC Pharmaceutical Task Force

By Randall F. White, MD, FRCPC

9 June 2008

The BC minister of health, George Abbott, assembled a task force in 2007 to review policy on pharmaceutical coverage under the province’s PharmaCare program. According to the Web site, the program “subsidizes eligible prescription drugs and designated medical supplies, protecting British Columbians from high drug costs.” Abbott’s appointments to the panel surprised even cynics.

Adrian Dix, the opposition health critic, called the composition of the nine-member task force “highly debatable” because five of the members had ties to the pharmaceutical industry. It included Russell Williams, the president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, a leading industry lobbying group. The conflict of interest was glaring, yet aspects of the province’s decision-making that displease industry were open for review.

Most provinces turn to the Common Drug Review that for decisions about covering medications. For therapies that fall outside the Common Drug Review, BC has an independent review process called the Therapeutics Initiative (TI), which also provides education for clinicians on its Web site Therapeutics Initiative The TI review process has been praised for outcomes such as preventing widespread use of COX-2 inhibitors in BC, medications which turned out to have a poor risk/benefit ratio.

The task force released its report in April 2008, and just as critics expected, the recommendations lean hard on efforts to protect tax payers and public health at the expense of Big Pharma’s profits. The report concluded, without substantiation, that the TI is “widely regarded as being in need of either substantial revitalization or replacement.” The panel even recommended that the TI cease educational activities, suggesting that they have not been “unbiased and evidence based.”

In barely concealed contempt for the TI, which is housed at UBC and is explicitly designed to keep the evaluation process shielded from industry influence, the panel suggested a new process that includes “disease-specific experts.” Although experts have a lot to offer, the fact is that many are involved in research and education funded by Big Pharma: more conflict of interest. In an egregious example, Dr. Joseph Biederman, a renowned child psychiatrist and researcher at Harvard, was recently found to have concealed a large sum of pharma income New York Times

What about a government’s conflict of interest in inviting industry to craft public policy? Big Pharma spreads its money around, including to Abbott’s party, the BC Liberals. The Pharmaceutical Task Force illustrates how commercial interests influence health policy, and why Canadians should hesitate to allow commercialization of other aspects of the health care system. Once corporate interests are let in, their lobbyists want a say in whatever government does.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

CDM calls on BC government to reject two-tier health care disguised as "sustainability"

The BC government should remove “sustainability” from the proposed Medicare Protection Amendment Act, Bill 21, unless it unequivocally rejects private for-profit care for medically necessary services and commits to keeping the universal single-payer system, says Dr. Randall White, BC Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

“We all believe in a sustainable health care system,” says Dr. White. “We all believe in innovation, transparency and accountability – words the government wants to enshrine in the legislation. We all believe patients should have choice in the kind of care they get, that there should be personal responsibility. But we believe in these principles within the context of the public system because the evidence is that single-payer systems provide better value for money than private systems, with health outcomes that are as good or better.”

When governments enshrine these principles in legislation, they provide fodder for the supporters of for-profit care to argue that choice, personal responsibility, and the needs of other public programs require private for-profit health care, says Dr. White. This creates the impression that health care is siphoning funds from other programs, like education. “The reality is the health care budget has grown so much compared with other program budgets because the BC Liberals have reduced social spending and cut taxes.”

Alarmist rhetoric from promoters of commercialized medical care suggests Canada has a crisis that demands privatization, says Dr. White. For example, for-profit supporters use statistics stating Canada ranks 30th in the world in health care. This is from a discredited World Health Organization report that ranked Colombia as No. 1 in "fairness in financing" and the United Arab Emirates as No. 1 in "responsiveness". Meanwhile, favourable studies, such as a 2008 report showing that Canada ranks sixth in preventing deaths from medically treatable disease, are ignored.

Private for-profit care requires commercial insurance, which most Canadians will not be able to afford; or will not quality for. Studies elsewhere show the major beneficiaries of private insurance are investors in insurance companies, private hospitals, and specialist doctors who command high fees. Private clinics will take less complicated cases, leaving the more difficult cases to the public system – along with even longer waiting lists because the specialists will be busy in private clinics.

“We don’t need private for-profit care to have a sustainable system,” says CDM Policy Advisor Karen Palmer. “What we need are innovation and reform within the public system (see Successful Medicare Innovations). This means more surgical capacity in our public hospitals, queue management to reduce wait times, the most efficient use of operating space and staff; and systematic collaboration between generalists and specialists. We also need widespread efforts to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and addiction.

“The path to sustainability is through a universal, single payer system, not through efforts to cap spending, outsource care to for-profit clinics, and shift costs to patients.”

For More Information:

Randall F. White, M.D. - BC Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare
Phone: 604 221 2313 or 604 682-2344 x63966

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Two Visions of Sustainability

Randall F. White, MD
19 April 2008

Professor Marie-Claude Premont said that the BC government is attempting to undermine the foundation of publicly funded, not-for-profit health care in British Columbia. She spoke to the delegates of the The Health Sciences Association of BC at their annual convention on April 18 about Bill 21 , which was introduced by health minster George Abbot and has had first reading.

Premont, on the faculty of L’Ecole Nationale de l’Administration Publique de l’Universite du Quebec, said that the preamble of the Medicare Protection Amendment Act contains important words that belie its intent. It calls for “individual choice, personal responsibility, innovation, transparency and accountability,” each of which may be used as means to introduce privatization and profit motives into health care. Accountability, she said, is a business term and not a traditional term in public administration. Despite this, the bill would insert it into the “public administration” paragraph of the Medicare Protection Act. Premont believes this may facilitate activity-based or, as Brian Day prefers, “patient-centred” funding.

The bill’s rhetoric also aims for an “integrated” health care system, which many Medicare supporters would endorse. But Premont said this could mean an integration of public and private elements.

The heart of the bill is its call for sustainability, defined as “annual health expenditures that are within taxpayers' ability to pay” without taking too much of the provincial budget. This leaves the door open for spending caps. Premont pointed out that the denominator of the equation is tax revenues, not provincial GDP or some other measure of total wealth. If the BC Liberals continue to prioritize tax cuts over social spending, the inflation-adjusted budget for health care will shrink in coming years. This will pave the way for shifting costs to patients, a wider market for commercial insurance, and accelerating privatization.

Canadian Doctors for Medicare has a different, broader vision of a sustainable health care system, one that considers patients’ and providers’ needs, not just the minister of finance’s needs. Increasing the capacity for publicly funded and delivered health care, including innovative surgical programs, better primary care access, collaborative care, and universal pharmacare could help achieve sustainability. The BC government, however, is enacting a narrow vision and is setting the stage for health-care profiteering. BC residents should immediately let their MLAs know what they think of that.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Patients should be at the centre of the health care system

Re: Healing the system, Vancouver Province, Wed 02 Apr 2008, Page: A4

Dr. Day has it right; patients should be at the centre of the health care system. Unfortunately his prescription for getting them there - forcing competition between hospitals and private clinics - will put profit at the centre, resulting in unhealthy outcomes for most Canadians.

Patient-centred care requires collaboration, not competition. The British Medical Association has expressed serious concerns about the effect of competitive practices, as have doctors south of the border, a majority of whom now want a collaborative style national health insurance program[Annals of Internal Medicine]. The major side effect of competition in countries that allow private for profit care is that the benefits generally go to private hospitals, insurance companies, specialists and wealthy patients. Even Dr. Day's own organization the Canadian Medical Association has said private insurance for medically necessary physician and hospital services does not improve access to publicly insured services, does not lower costs or improve quality of care, can increase wait times for those who are not privately insured, and could exacerbate human resource shortages in the public system.

No doctor wants to see their patient languish on a waiting list. But reducing wait lists does not require the profit motive. It's being done across the country through queue management, improved primary care access and collaborative care models, resulting in dramatic drops in waits in such key areas as hip and knee replacements, cataracts and cancer care. We need a lot more of this.

However, it's also important to remember, that far from being at the bottom of the pack in providing health care – as Dr. Day often suggests - a recent study in Health Affairs by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine rated Canada sixth in the world in preventing death from treatable conditions, an excellent value for money.

Danielle Martin and Randall White
Canadian Doctors for Medicare

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Majority U.S. Physicians support single payer national health insurance

A new survey [Annals of Internal Medicine] of US physicians has found that 59% support legislation to establish a single-payer national health insurance. A previous survey completed in 2002 found that 49% supported a single-payer program. The 10% increase in support during 5 years parallels the increase in uninsured Americans from 43.6 million in 2002 to 47 million in 2006, the last year for which a US Census Bureau estimate is available.

The survey, done by two Indiana University researchers, found that a majority of physicians in every specialty support single-payer universal coverage except surgical subspecialists, anaesthesiologists and radiologists.

The American Medical Association, which represents an estimated 19% of US physicians, has steadfastly opposed a single-payer model. The organization is perceived to represent all US physicians, but its diminutive membership and lack of leadership in addressing the crisis of the uninsured would seem to make it irrelevant. Because no countervailing organization has emerged to represent the other 81% of US physicians, the AMA could make a large difference in the debate by acknowledging these new survey findings endorsing a national health program. I think it would then reverse its membership decline, but I also think it highly unlikely the AMA will change its position.

The leadership of the Canadian Medical Association wants to move away from a single-payer system, and the procedural specialists are leading the way. The current president, an orthopaedist, and the president-elect, a radiologist, both advocate for privatization. This reflects the US survey findings, suggesting that highly paid specialists feel constrained by a publicly funded system.

In Canada, physicians face a dilemma. How can we prevent the discontented procedural specialists from taking us down a path that will be destructive to our single-payer, equitable system? Some of their grievances and frustrations are legitimate. Yet their ability to obtain operating room time, new equipment, and high remuneration should not undermine access to care for our patients, the majority of whom would find premiums for private care a serious financial burden or even unaffordable. Furthermore, we know from experience in Australia and the UK that private clinics flourish at the expense of the public system. We need to establish dialogue within the profession, but we also shouldn’t play nice indefinitely lest we find ourselves with a CMA that no longer reflects the values of most Canadian physicians.

Randall White, M.D.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Re: Quebec opens door to more private health care

The Castonguay Commission’s report on health care in Quebec recommends a number of pro-privatization solutions, including the sale of duplicate private insurance for medically necessary care.

In most provinces, such private duplicate insurance is illegal under the Canada Health Act. These findings were predictable from the outset given that Claude Castonguay was trained as an insurance actuary and was once President of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. He is a longtime proponent of private health insurance coverage, increased private delivery of care, “double dipping” into both the public and private purses, and user fees.

In research analysis, we are trained to look for the inherent biases in a study before we accept the findings. When a study finds, for example, that “butter is good for you”, but it’s sponsored by the Dairy Association, we have to ask ourselves whether there is some self-interest in the conclusion. When a report of drug industry-sponsored research says that a drug shows a favourable outcome, we must question the safety and efficacy of the drug. Similarly, the perception of bias in Castonguay'’s support of private insurance makes all of the Commission’s pro-privatization and pro-market recommendations highly suspect.

Karen Palmer, Alan Katz, Nan Okun and Bob Woollard; Members of the Board of CDM-MCRP.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More on the Castonguay report

Re: Toronto Star: Quebec health report rings alarm for universal care, Feb. 25, A14.

A clinical review may reveal that the error that happened at the Rockland MD clinic could have happened anywhere, but the growth of commercialized health care should be a concern for all Canadians, not just Quebeckers. Research by McMaster University's P.J. Devereaux and colleagues shows not for profit care is safer, less expensive and fairer than commercialized care Review comparing mortality rates of private for-profit and private not-for-profit hospitals and Comparison of mortality between private for-profit and private not-for-profit hemodialysis centers. If commercialized care continues its spread across Canada, fuelled by the repeated use of alarmist rhetoric and discredited research – such as Canada ranks 30th in the world in health care - ( See "Why Did the World Health Organization Rate Canada's Health System as 30th?") - Canadians will soon find that the promised benefits evaporate into the thin air on which they are based.

In research analysis, we are trained to look for the inherent biases in a study before we accept the findings. When a study finds, for example, that "butter is good for you", but is sponsored by the Dairy Association, we have to ask ourselves whether there is some self-interest in the conclusion. When a report of drug industry-sponsored research says that a drug shows a favorable outcome, we must question the safety and efficacy of the drug. When a proponent of private care, physician or not, quotes statistics that show Canada ranks at the bottom of the pack in health care, we know instinctively that something isn't right with this figure, and we need to make serious enquiries as to why it is being put forth as an argument for private care. When the head of a health care commission is a trained actuary, a former President of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, and a longtime proponent of private health insurance coverage, increased private delivery of care, physicians working simultaneously in public and private systems, and user fees, we must indeed ask ourselves who would benefit from the proposals – the most likely answer is the investors in insurance companies, including those poised to move into Canada from the U.S.

Canadians can take comfort from the fact that, despite our problems, Canada ranks sixth in the world in preventing death from medically treatable disease Canadian health care better and cheaper than U.S., says research. Nevertheless there is much that needs improving in Canadian health care. The good news is that this is happening in the efforts to reduced shortages in the health professions and successful pilot projects to reduce waiting lists across the country. (See "Why wait?) This is where our focus should be.

Nan Okun, MD
Alan Katz, MD
Claudette Chase, MD, CCFP
CDM-MCRP Board Members

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Castonguay Report

The proposal by the Castonguay Report in Québec that doctors should be allowed to work in the public and private system - and private insurance companies should cover services currently in the public health program – is clearly an attempt to create a private medical market in Quebec. The beneficiaries are not likely to be patients, unless they are rich. A parallel private system may provide faster care to those with the ability to pay, but extensive experience in other countries makes clear that it seriously compromises access for those waiting for care in the public system, and contradicts one of the features of public healthcare that Canadians cherish, namely that we should receive care based on need, not on our ability to pay.

And if Claude Castonguay thinks the current Canadian system is rigid, he should try talking to physicians who have worked in the United States where each insurance company controls what services they pay for. I worked as a physician in the US for over 20 years and saw first hand the inequality, inefficiency and high cost of profit driven health care in that country. Canadians should avoid at all costs introducing private for-profit health care delivery.

There is abundant evidence that private for-profit care is more expensive and strong evidence that, at least for hospitals and dialysis facilities, for- profit care leads to poorer outcomes. Review comparing mortality rates of private for-profit and private not-for-profit hospitals and Comparison of mortality between private for-profit and private not-for-profit hemodialysis centers Thus we pay more, whether through taxes or premiums, and get less. It has also been shown that user fees meant to deter "unnecessary visits" will also deter necessary ones.User fees will stop waste.. The rich won't have too worry about them but middle class Quebeckers will.

It's time for politicians and their consultants and special interest groups to put ideology aside and pay attention to the evidence, as both the Romanow Commission and the Kirby Senate Commission did. They concluded that public funding and delivery of health care is both more efficient and more effective than private for-profit delivery and that solutions to the current problems in the public system should be addressed in the public sector. Indeed, examples such as the Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Pilot Project have shown them to be correct.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New CDM Blog

Thanks for visiting the new CDM blog.
CDM is in the process of establishing the new blog. Please visit again in a couple of weeks when we hope to have posts in place. We invite you to add your comments to the discussions at that time.