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Swallowing the costs

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Health care system feeling the rising cost of prescription drugs

In Canada, health care just ain’t what it used to be. What was once a source of national pride, held up for all the world to admire as a shining example of socialized government, has become a regular source of pounding headaches. Facilities are closing, shrinking, or cutting back services. Hospital beds are disappearing. Frustrated health care professionals are heading south for greener pastures – and by greener pastures I mean greener money.

There are unprecedented waits for routine tests and surgical procedures. There is a shortage of doctors, nurses, and health care providers in both urban and rural areas, although the situation in cities and towns is not as critical as it is for our country cousins. In many cases, hospitals are making do with dated equipment that has been repaired several times because they don’t have access to modern technologies that are considered indispensable in other countries.

What happened? Why is our health care system, so important to us all, on the endangered list?

Most people blame government cutbacks and the fact that the baby boomer population is entering its sunset years with the usual ailments of ageing – the perception is that there just isn’t enough money in the system to provide previous standards of care to a needier pool of patients. That’s only part of the story, however.

While Medicare budgets were cut drastically in the mid-1990s, both the federal and provincial governments are starting to compensate for the shortfall. Last September, the provincial first ministers hammered out a deal whereby the federal government would invest a total of $23.4 billion in provincial health care systems for medical equipment, health information and communication technology and primary health care.

The B.C. government has increased its budget to $9.3 billion, a 13 per cent increase over previous years, although they were still forced to disallow some medical services that were previously covered by the Medical Services Plan, such as routine eye examinations.

According to the Council of Canadians, the Medicare crisis was exaggerated in the media in the first place by health care professionals who were overwhelmed and wanted more help/money, and by the pundits and politicians who believe that Medicare is an outdated, unprofitable concept that should be shelved in favour of a two-tiered system.

"The phony crisis – the hysterical reports about waiting lists, the tabloid-style horror stories, the denigration of the public system as inefficient and unreliable – is a deliberately created crisis," wrote CC stalwart Murray Dobbin.

"The real crisis in Medicare, however, is a corporate threat. For over 15 years, corporations – from insurance companies to private hospital firms to giant U.S. health conglomerates – have been steadily chipping away at the public armour of Medicare, trying to find profitable ways into the system."

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