Pay attention now. What I’m about to say is almost certain to raise your blood pressure. Ready? Here goes. Canada doesn’t need a national Pharmacare program. There, I’ve said it. What we do need instead is to move away from a health care system that focuses solely on treating sickness, while spending precious little time worrying about wellness.
Before we go any further, however, I want to deal with the elephant in the room. No one is paying me to say these things. I’m not a gun-for-hire, bought-and-paid-for stooge of the pharmaceutical industry. Unlike the pro-Pharmacare crowd (I think you know who I’m referring to ― the various citizens’ coalitions and Friends of Medicare groups), the majority of whose efforts are being bank rolled by the big unions, these opinions are mine and mine alone. While it’s true, as the owner of a small business who doesn’t have any drug or medical coverage, I personally would benefit greatly from seeing the introduction of a national Pharmacare program here in Canada, I just can’t justify burdening my fellow citizens and taxpayers with the enormous costs of such a program in order to pay for my bad lifestyle decisions over the years.
The main reason I can’t get behind the federal government embracing Pharmacare, though, is simply because it doesn’t address the real problem, which can pretty much be summed up as follows: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What the Trudeau Liberals are attempting to do, if we’re to be totally honest, is solve the “political” problem. Too many people (read “voters”) are having to choose between paying rent and buying food or paying for their prescriptions. So, the solution, naturally, is to plunge the country even further into debt, and possibly bankrupting us, by introducing a national Pharmacare program ― just in time for the next election.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time those in charge have failed to understand the true nature of the problem they were dealing with. In the early 1960s, no less an eminence than Justice Emmett Hall and his fellow royal commissioners spent a number of years trying to come up with a way of covering the health care needs of all Canadians. Unfortunately, by focusing mainly on how to keep its citizens from going bankrupt paying for catastrophic illnesses, Justice Hall and his team did us all a huge disservice by recommending we adopt an insurance scheme masquerading as a health care system, one that all these years later is doomed to collapse under its own weight.
Those pushing for a national Pharmacare program are about to make the very same mistake, I’m afraid. For the reality is, by relying on pharmaceuticals, we’re treating the symptoms instead of taking the time to get to the underlying root of what’s causing the problem for the patient. Take me, for example. I take pills to control my blood pressure and keep my atrial fibrillation under control, as well as another pill to keep my wonky kidneys from failing. Recently, my cardiologist put me on blood thinners to keep me from “stroking out.”
Now granted, some of my health challenges are as a result of bad genes. We’ve had lots of heart troubles, strokes, and diabetes in my family ― to mention nothing of cancer and kidney disease. But the biggest culprit when it comes to my deteriorating health is . . . wait for it . . . me! Like many Canadians, I’ve been committing suicide with food for years. And while I’ve never smoked, and gave up alcohol twenty years ago, the fact remains I’m the #1 threat to my own health. Something I suspect is true for a lot of us.
So you see, making drugs more affordable ― even free ― isn’t going to solve the real problem. In my case, it’ll only delay the inevitable. For without a major rethink of my diet and nutritional requirements (fortunately, I do three miles of dog walking every day, so I am getting enough exercise), I’m on the fast track to a very bad, and very expensive, health care train wreck. A sad ending to my story that Pharmacare is going to have little affect upon.
While it might be too late for me, it isn’t too late for future generations of Canadians. We need to invest some serious coinage in teaching our children and grandchildren the importance of making the right choices when it comes to nutrition and eating healthy, as well as the risks of smoking cigarettes. And, of course, exercise. The Millennials and iGens may be fit as a fiddle from their wrists down to the tips of their fingers, thanks in no small part to the hours upon hours they spend on their smart phones exploring the Twitterverse, but the rest of their bodies, for the most part, leave a lot to be desired.
Finally, let me end by saying a word or two about pain, pain management, and wait-lists.
Because we have a health care system in this country that is (as Walter Cronkite once said about America’s system) neither healthy, caring, nor much of a system, it has become the norm to ration health care, not by the size of your wallet, as they do in the United States, but by the length of the wait-list. The unintended consequence of all this, tragically, is that many patients forced to wait an inordinate amount of time for the care they need become addicted to pain pills.
By doing everything in their power to cover up the truth about just how unsustainable Canada’s health care system truly is ― and by refusing to admit we need to vigorously touch the third rail and allow a parallel private system to operate, above board, right alongside our public one ― it’s obvious to me where all this is headed. If you think the opioid crisis we’ve been dealing with the past few years was something, wait until you see how badly things deteriorate once the Trudeau Liberals bring in a national Pharmacare program.
Leaving the sick and the infirm to languish on wait-lists, and drugging them to the gills, all in order to win an election is not providing leadership. It’s sick, it’s perverse, and un-Canadian.
Something our prime minister would be wise to remember.
Stephen Skyvington’s book, This May Hurt A Bit: Reinventing Canada’s Health Care System, was published February 2019 by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @SSkyvington.