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caring about health care costs

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I recently underwent inguinal hernia repair (see gory details). Everything went smoothly. After referral from a general practitioner, I was examined by a surgeon, waited a few weeks to catch someone’s cancellation date, went in for half a day of prep, surgery, and recovery, and am slowly convalescing. All along I was treated with kindness and proficiency.

Mine is a tiny case in the big picture of the Canadian health care system. Politicians tell us that we’re in a funding crisis and evidence is everywhere. More and more services are excluded (i.e. patient pays for what used to be covered), wait times for surgery keep getting longer (e.g., knee replacement 15.3 months, orthopedic surgery 9.6, eye surgery 8.7, gynecology 5.1), wait time for a non-emergency MRI in Victoria is 11 months, and our only residential hospice is begging for donations to cover a budget shortfall.

As a consumer, I was struck by the ease with which a quick follow-up took a bite out of the funding pie. After I’d waited for an hour in a little room (“doctor X will be right with you”), the surgeon entered, looked at a printout with my name on it, smiled and asked “did I operate on you?”, examined my belly, declared that it was healing nicely, and was out the door before I could pull up my pants (“come see me if there’s a problem”).

Total time spent: less than a minute. Billing to BC Medical Plan: between $23.82 and 34.06. Surgeon’s total annual billing: just over $730,000. By comparison, the province-wide gross average paid to family doctors was $232,683, to specialists $311,171. I realize that doctors incur expenses for salaries, supplies, equipment, rent, insurance, etc. My point here is not to questions anyone’s competence, but to wonder how prudently public health care dollars (our taxes) are divvied up.

image: cma.medscape.com

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5 responses »

  1. If you all ever end up getting taken over by the corporate wonks controlling it all down here in the U.S., you’ll really be screwed.

    Reply
  2. Yes, and the new government are trying to go the same way here in the UK, it’s very scary. I have to attend a lot of doctor/hospital appointments and though I moan at how inefficient the system is I also am so grateful we have a national health service, without it I, and most people i know would be in much poorer health, if not dead!

    Reply
  3. “Total time spent: less than a minute. Billing to BC Medical Plan: between $23.82 and 34.06”
    Hi Daishin,
    It’s good to hear that everything’s going well!

    By US standards those prices are probably cheap.
    These days I’m living in South Korea, and while the basic health care is just that, even private clinics are an incredible deal by US standards.
    They do this by capping what doctors can charge, and not paying for highly expensive procedures(bone marrow transplant, etc. One would need private insurance for this, which also isn’t too expensive.), and expensive procedures that have a low chance of success (a lot of the “end of life” treatments that only delay things by a few months).

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the Canadian perspective on things. Living in the US has its benefits and its drawbacks when it comes to health care. I could go on for days about how I feel, but this isn’t the time or the place. I recently had a hernia operation, and it was a very smooth “transaction” – no complaints from me, as far as the service aspect. The cost on the other hand does make my stomach turn a bit, but I am thankful that I can get what I need, when I need it.

    Reply
  5. Thanks For Your Idea…

    Reply

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