Canada and Cancer: A Severe Health System Paradox
There is a severe paradox in the Canadian health system. On the surface, it is one of the most efficiently run systems in the world. It has great economics as far as the government is concerned, while being able to provide free healthcare to its citizens. Its success has prompted governments like that of the United States to take a serious swipe at adopting some of its features. However, the same system is failing miserably in the world of cancer, especially for those who are looking to seriously attack the disease. Let us look at some of the key points to consider when thinking of Canada and Cancer:
As A Canadian, Would You Need To Be Concerned?
The simple answer is yes. Whether one has cancer or not, one should still be concerned. Let us look at these alarming numbers, adapted from the Canadian Cancer Society:
- About one-third of Canadian deaths are because of cancer (see pie chart).
- Over 2 out of 5 Canadians are going to develop cancer in their lifetimes, and it can happen anytime.
- Over 500 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer everyday.
- Over 200 Canadians die from cancer everyday.
- About 2.5%, or 1 out of 40 Canadians, is living with cancer today.
Nobody wants to be a part of these statistics. However, the reality is that we cannot control that. All we can control is what we do if it were to happen to us. The worse the statistics, the more likely it will. That is why knowledge is half the preparation.
The Insurance Coverage For Cancer Patients Is Dismal
As a Canadian, you may expect that the health system will foot the bill for treatment. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most Canadians do not realize this until they are actually dealing with the disease. Let us take a look at some of these facts:
- Only 37.5% of the average Canadian’s drug costs are funded by public health insurance. The rest comes from either out-of-pocket or, if the individual has been proactive and willing and able to pay, private insurance plans.
- The average cost of a single course of treatment using current cancer drugs is $65,000. Most of these treatments, especially the more advanced ones, are not covered by insurance. And most treatments require more than one course, often with a more advanced drug, as the cancer progresses. Average cost for take home drugs is about $20,000 a year, which continues for as long as the patient is alive. In other words, the patient is limited to a small set of treatments approved by the health system and gets surely and steadily pulled into the average statistics of cancer. And this is also not even considering the prudence of opting for conventional treatments as opposed to safer, non-toxic alternative treatments.
Something Has To Give: The Health System is Not Financially Geared to Treat Cancer
As a Canadian, what one must understand, is that the public health system is designed to meet the average needs of a patient. As the government looks to create a financially viable health system that makes efficient use of tax payer dollars, something has to give. As a result, budgets that are not realistically tuned to the huge financial needs for the treatment of cancer patients result in only limited treatment options. That is why the health system very strictly points patients to only certain treatments, and literally forces them to take actions that may not be what they want to take (see quote above to the right).
Long Wait Times, Delays That Become Denials
As a Canadian patient, wait times for treatments can be staggering. The data for the bar graph to the right is taken from the Canadian Ministry for Health and Long-Term Care, pointing out average wait times for major surgeries and imaging procedures related to those surgeries. For example, a breast cancer patient would have to wait 126 days (about 4 months) to get an MRI, and then another about 5-6 months for a surgical procedure. On the average – some may have to wait longer. In a cancer patient’s calendar, 5-6 months is a long period of time where many adverse changes can happen, very rapidly. Treatment delayed here, is indeed equivalent to treatment denied.
Waiting Times For Standard Surgeries in Canada