Socialized medicine’s class system

Leigh Biltis | Board Member, Checks & Balances

Having grown up in Canada and now living in the U.S., I have lived with the medical systems of both countries. My family was taught to believe in socialized medicine. It was all we had, but we liked the idea of “free” coverage for all. We often criticized the American system as less compassionate, at least until we saw both firsthand. We believed that a government-based system was more caring for the poor and needy but found just the opposite was true.

It was only when we needed quality care, we realized how much government-run healthcare failed us. Instead, we discovered a two-tier class system, overworked staff prone to mistakes, dirty facilities, and wait times so ridiculously long that they endanger the patient.

Our world was forever changed May 2004. My husband and I were expecting our first child and life was good. My dad had always been an active person who ran marathons and did not drink or smoke. When an outdoorsman-type of guy complains of lethargy and malaise, we naturally became a little suspicious.

Dad was diagnosed with stage four-pancreatic cancer. Once the initial disbelief and shock subsided, nothing made us panic as much as the wait times.

Pancreatic cancer is an extremely aggressive disease with low survivability rates. The action plan needs to be swift and hard-hitting, not delayed while the wheels of socialized medicine turned.

My dad was not the only person in Canada suffering from cancer. The number of sick people far outweighs the availability of equipment and the slots fill up very quickly. Private facilities have opened as a partial solution to the ever-increasing lines at hospitals (though the government tries to shut them down any way they can).

Since we had good friends who were doctors and we were able to pay for tests privaely, dad was expedited to the front of the line for results and surgery. Had he walked in as a stranger off the street, he would have waited months. I was surprised when we took him to the US several months later, and were able to get him treated right away, despite having no connections.

After his surgery, the situation went from bad to worse. Dad started hemorrhaging internally and the clotting medication they gave him did not work. His doctor told us only one drug would save his life that night. The problem was that dad needed to be “approved” but the government office didn’t open until the next morning. As dad lay bleeding to death, we were frantically trying to find a way to get this drug. We begged to pay privately, but the bureaucrats told us it would not be “fair” to sell it because others might not afford it.

Fortunately, we knew someone that had a private supply so we were able to get it through what was technically the black market. We learned that if you had money, connections, and were willing to break the law, you could save your loved one’s lives.

The challenges continued during his six-week stay. Antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” were spreading in the hospital, causing more fatalities. In my dad’s ward, these epidemics were spreading so quickly that every other hospital room had a red quarantine sign on the door. Without any air conditioning, these bugs spread uncontrollably during the hot summer months. Despite this, we hadn’t seen a cleaning crew in the ward in days.  After many unanswered complaints, we ended up getting a mop from home and bleached his entire room ourselves.

To make matters worse, we noticed many staff ignored the rules by going from patient to patient without changing gowns or gloves. We had to threaten the hospital administration that we would go to the newspapers before they fixed it. After surviving a life-threatening complication, we were not going to let Dad die over a set of 25-cent latex gloves.

I remember when my dad was in a hospital bed and needed a routine scan. In a U.S. hospital, they would have simply wheeled him 5 minutes down the hall. The Canadian hospital was so booked up that they couldn’t schedule anything for 3 months. We had to take him out of his bed, drive down the street in our own car to a private clinic, and readmit him back to the same hospital through the emergency room. Fortunately, that wasn’t one of the times that we had to wait in the emergency room for 48 hours or more.

After dad was released, we turned away from government-run medicine and its disastrous consequences. From that moment, like many other Canadians, dad pursued treatment in the United States. We found that socialized medicine not only creates one healthcare system for the rich and another for the poor, but also provides an inferior product for everyone. The thought of the U.S. drifting towards a more centralized, regulated healthcare system is terrifying. Canada is already there, and it’s done them no favors.

Leigh Biltis is a board member at Checks & Balances, where she fights against government-run healthcare.  She lived in Canada for more than 20 years and now lives in Arizona with her husband and two boys.

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