Why is it always the short end of the services stick for healthy people?

Devon McGregor, National Post · Mar. 3, 2009 | Last Updated: Mar. 3, 2009 7:02 PM ET

Some Canadians are angry. Earlier this year, I wrote a column for this newspaper headlined “The Price of Being Healthy.” In it I wondered, why does the medical system download its costs on those who take care of their bodies? In response, I received emails from all across the country from Canadians expressing their agreement but also their outrage.

One email was from a doctor who wrote: “Reading your article on my flight to N.Y.C. to speak to CEOs about taking the lead in health and wellness for themselves and their companies ... tonight when I get to my hotel, I could head out for a high fat calorie meal, [and] write it off as an expense. However, I will head for the gym. The hotel does not have a gym, so I happily pay a daily-use fee. Isn’t it ironic that by making a smart choice on wellness, I have to pay, but if I pig out on the great food, I get to write it off as an expense?”

His and many other notes related to me stories of real frustration. The general consensus is that, not only are there no rewards for self care, people are penalized with high costs for making an effort. Some of the email respondents felt that I did not go far enough to highlight how expensive self-managed care can be, or how difficult it is to find a doctor to rely on.

Common sense says that, if there are 10 people sitting in a waiting room, the ones that fall below the “baseline” of good health will be treated first. That is practical. Things get complicated in that, after they leave, there will be others who also fall below the baseline who will want to fill their seat. To those waiting, it’s déjà vu all over again. When will there be time for those who have risen well above the baseline? 

Looking for answers, I contacted Ontario Minister of Health David Caplan. I asked him what the ministry was doing to relieve some of the angst felt by healthy Canadians who feel health care is geared toward the sick. Though I did not receive a reply directly from him, I did hear from Ed Piccinin of the Correspondence Unit Communications Branch Ministry of Health Promotion. He said: “We also share your views about the importance of personal initiatives that keep people healthy and help to prevent chronic diseases. An important part of the government’s plan for health is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. Keeping people healthy is a key priority of the Ministry of Health Promotion.” 

Piccinin is, I believe, telling us in vague terms what the ministry is expecting from us all: “We are removing barriers to healthy, active living so that Ontarians, including those most vulnerable to chronic diseases, have greater opportunities to enjoy good health.” Most importantly, he goes on to say, “Our strategies focus on nutrition, physical activity, sport and recreation, as well as smoking cessation and prevention.” 

But there appears to be no plan in place for providing a better health care environment for the healthy. At least not until the sick begin to practise prevention. Only then, it seems, will our health care system be in a position to manage both.

-Devon McGregor, BFA, BSc, human kinetics, is a fitness expert with more than 18 years experience and co-founder of Balance, a Toronto fitness centre. 


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