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What Hasn't Changed Since I Was B.C. Health Minister

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Back in ancient times I was health minister in B.C. Much has changed. No one had heard of AIDS in 1979-80. Organ transplants were rare. MRIs were just gleams in inventors' eyes.

One thing has however remained the same -- the debate over private medicine. In those days doctors were demanding the right of "balance billing," a euphemism for padding their bills. Now the doctors are mad at Dr. Brian Day for operating his own form of balance billing by running a clinic outside the Medical Services Plan. At this writing, Day is challenging the government to go to court and get an injunction against his Vancouver clinics.

The argument flows down several streams.

The politicians of the left set their hair on fire at the remotest suggestion of private medicine. They come out of the woodwork, led by Tommy Douglas' daughter Shirley, crying "The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!" accompanied by stories of millions of African-Americans dying in the streets for want of care. That no one I know of, including Day, supports the American way doesn't faze them.

Then there are people like me who ask a rather primitive but essential question, why aren't my medical bills paid?

In order to keep a terrible back from the surgeon's (expensive) knife I see my chiropractor every three to four weeks on a maintenance program. I pay him $47 which is out of my pocket. The program works.

I am a Type 2 diabetic and must keep my blood sugar under control and to do that I see a naturopath who has done something my family doctor was unable to do: got me on a exercise program, a diet that I, a picky eater at best, can use, and health food additives that have my BS (blood sugar!) level well within the appropriate range.

At my age I need a lot of pharmaceuticals and the very expensive testing strips for diabetes -- the vast majority of this I must pay personally. Where the hell is my universal health coverage?

The third stream is the hypocrisy of the present system. There are large groups who don't have to wait in lineups for surgery including those in the armed forces, hockey players, those on Worker's Compensation and the like.

Moreover, one is quite entitled to have eye surgery with MSP contributing to the cost if it's done privately.

The fourth stream is the most troubling: how can a democratic society prevent a citizen making whatever medical arrangements he wishes?

Obviously, seeking to pay for surgeries is not evil in itself for the government doesn't stop citizens from going to Bellingham, Wash. for treatment. I can take out an insurance policy in the U.S. and use it for medical costs incurred there but it's against the law for me to insure against the costs of going to someone like Dr. Day.

The court will no doubt hear of countless states in Europe, Australia and Asia where a mixed public/private scheme works just fine, with the consequence of private medicine being that it reduces costs to government and shortens surgery lineups.

I know Dr. Brian Day and he's been spoiling for his day in court for a decade or more. Now that he will get his wish, we're in for the mother of all lawsuits.

Stay tuned!