Tales from the North Country: A Canadian form letter
Sunday, March 20, 2005
by Sydney Smith

A letter from the Moncton Hospital to a New Brunswick heart patient in need of an electrocardiogram said the appointment would be in three months. It added: 'If the person named on this computer-generated letter is deceased, please accept our sincere apologies.'

In fairness, there must be more to that story. Why would a patient need to go to a hospital for something as routine as an electrocardiogram? Couldn't he get it in his doctor's office? I hope things aren't so bad there that doctors can't afford an EKG machine. (They cost about $2000-3000, so maybe things are that bad.) But the final caveat is a doozy.

Even worse, though, is this:

George Zeliotis told the court he suffered pain and became addicted to painkillers during a yearlong wait for hip replacement surgery, and should have been allowed to pay for faster service. His physician, Dr. Jacques Chaoulli, said his patient's constitutional rights were violated because Quebec couldn't provide the care he needed, but didn't offer him the option of getting it privately.

A ruling on the case is expected any time.

If Zeliotis had been from the United States, China or neighboring Ontario_ anywhere, in fact, except Quebec — he could have bought treatment in a private Quebec clinic. That's one way the system discourages the spread of private medicine — by limiting it to nonresidents. But it can have curious results, says Day.

He tells of a patient who was informed by Ontario officials that since Ontario couldn't help him, they would spend $35,000 to send him to the United States for surgery.

Day said his Vancouver clinic could have done it for $12,000 but the Ontario officials "do not philosophically support sending an individual to a non-government clinic in Canada."

Canadians can buy insurance for dental and eye care, physical and chiropractic therapy, long-term nursing and prescriptions, among other services. But according to experts on both sides of the debate, Canada and North Korea are the only countries with laws banning the purchase of insurance for hospitalization or surgery.