Gina Freeman/the Gauntlet

The sickness of health care

Private clinics betray the disease of the system

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Canada's health care system is in desperate need of an examination.

The Euro-Canada Health Care Index, a report released in early September, surveyed what consumers thought of Canada's health care and then compared the results to 29 European countries. Canada placed 23rd out of 30 countries overall and last when examining the amount of value Canadians receive for the money they put into health care.

Affluent Canadians, upset at long wait times and a lack of doctors, have been looking for alternatives and now have one in Calgary.

The Copeman Healthcare Centre, which charges $3,900 for the first year of membership and $2,900 each year after, opened in Calgary on Monday to angry protests about the perceived destruction of Canada's oft-lauded public health care system. Though the Calgary location does violate the spirit of the Canada Health Act, the B.C. Medical Services Commission review of the first location-- opened by founder and owner Don Copeman-- found it to be completely legal.

These clinics operate by skirting around the Health Act. It is illegal to charge for necessary services or services covered by health insurance, so the Copeman clinics charge for services not covered but which still improve a patient's health, like nutrition counseling and sports medicine.

There will likely be more private health care clinics across the country soon. Copeman has been eyeing both Edmonton and Nanaimo as potential sites for future clinics. Though Canadians should obviously be concerned with the lack of equal access-- the 500 Calgary members will be able to book extended visits with eight family doctors, an enviable patient-doctor ratio-- we should be more concerned with what this means for the public health care system as a whole.

Health care across the country is in rough shape and these private clinics are just a symptom of that. Wait times are brutal and nursing and doctor shortages plague us in Alberta. And though we are in the middle of a federal election campaign, this significant issue has hardly been raised and is often hidden behind the environment, the war in Afghanistan and the economy.

When citizens are turning away from the system because it is that dysfunctional, the government should be taking notice and taking steps to rectify the problem. The state of health care is a complex issue and not one that can easily be solved by throwing money around, as evidenced by Canada's poor showing in the value area of the Euro-Canada index. A large-scale review of the system is needed, but citizens need to call for it and demand health care be made an election issue.

Preventative care, like that emphasized by the Copeman clinics, is becoming more recognized as important in the grand scheme of health care. By teaching citizens to eat and live healthily, thousands of taxpayer dollars could be saved. Perhaps the government should follow the Copeman example and restructure funding so all citizens can access preventative care instead of idly standing on the sideline while the upper class is removing itself from the public system.

Health care is important to Canadians and we are obviously proud of our public health system-- father of Canadian medicare, Tommy Douglas, was voted as the greatest Canadian of all time in a 2004 CBC contest. Canadians need to channel this pride into action and demand the government examine our ailing public health system.