(A glimpse into my life as a Vanderbilt medical student)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Cheap Drugs and Long Lines

What about Canada? A question I heard many times in our “Ecology of Healthcare” class at Vanderbilt. Privy to the fact that many med students blatantly lied about being caring compassionate missionaries to the uninsured, the administration has ensured our empathy pedagogically. Part of this compassion indoctrination involves the aforementioned ecology class, a roundtable discussion, where the each new issue never fails to bring out the advocate in at least one of my classmates.

It seems that there is a reflex pathway in many of my colleague’s brains that automatically elicits the Canadian query at the slightest invocation of the words uninsured, money, drug pricing, and Avril Lavigne. As tempted as I am to respond with the smart aleck “What about Canada?”, I hold my tongue and understand that their question is meant to be rhetorical. Canada, the land where babies are born for free and you can have a CT scan for less than a piece of bubble gum.

For right now, I am going to ignore the whole “senior citizen drug ring” angle and just focus on what the Canadians get out of their system. The answer, according to a new NY Times article, is crowded emergency rooms, physician shortages, and unbearably long lines (oh yeah, and free check-ups). I’m not going to summarize the article, but I wanted to comment on a surprising statement that was noted on the second page.

“The government statistical agency estimates that more than 3.6 million Canadians, representing nearly 15 percent of the population, do not have a family doctor. That remains better than in the United States, where an estimated 20 percent do not have a regular doctor.”

Huh? It’s free and yet they only have a measly 5% lower rate of people without regular healthcare. This with a system that still rewards their richest citizens with better care. I’m not arguing that there isn’t a problem in the US; I’m just noting the discrepancy between what is expected in their little medical utopia and reality.


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