Anti-vaccination nuts picking up where the religious ones left off.

whoop

With most conspiracy driven crackpots I generally roll my eyes and let them go on with their imagined world ills. Reasoning with the conspiracy-inclined is an exercise in futility and only invites a barrage of links to youtube videos and blogs that are poorly sourced and created by other conspiracy types as they feed from each other’s paranoia and delusions.

With folks who feel that aliens are among us I can laugh or even those offensive ones who claim 911 was an inside job can be ignored. When the conspiracy kooks get into the realm of healthcare however they can become terribly dangerous to people at large as they try and occasionally succeed in spreading their misinformation.

One dangerous conspiracy theory is the one claiming that a cure for cancer is being suppressed by evil big pharmaceutical companies which is always rationalized by the profoundly simplistic, standalone statement of: “They make more money treating cancer than they would curing it.” Yes folks, tens of thousands of researchers, company presidents and doctors are all in on this and none leak while their friends, family and even they themselves die of cancer. Just take a short trip into the world of capitalism and project what really would happen if a pharmaceutical company came out with a cure for cancer. I assure you that every senior person in that company and investor would become quite rich as shares explode and the company moves to the top of the very competitive pharmaceutical ladder.

Those folks who believe that the cure for cancer is being hidden tend of course to feel that conventional treatment for cancer is a sham. These folks then can be prone to telling vulnerable and frightened, newly diagnosed cancer patients to seek alternative treatments. This is where a huge line has been crossed by these assholes. Mexican clinics and countless other sham herbalists and “alternative” providers are more than happy to suck the money from a person with cancer while that person dies in need of real treatment. While conventional cancer treatment can be ugly and awful to endure, the cure rates are quite good with many cancers as compared to those God damned Mexican herbal clinics with a near 100% mortality rate.

Now on to the anti-vaccination nuts. Despite overwhelming evidence showing the benefits of vaccination, an enduring movement still exists that wants to take us back a couple centuries where the life expectancy was around 30 years or so. While science does not support this movement (or even simple common sense), celebrities often do and they are given a platform to spew their dangerous nonsense on vapid daytime shows such as Ophrah Winfrey which unfortunately lends an air of credibility to their crap. Playmate model Jenny McCarthy has championed anti-vaccination pap for years and now has a seat among the hens on The View where she doubtless will be spreading more of her garbage.

Diseases like measles, whooping cough and even tetanus are harming children in the developed world again when they had been nearly wiped out by vaccination due to fools listening to air-headed celebrities rather than their doctor.

The HPV vaccine has been found to be more important than ever in preventing a whole host of cancers in both men and women if it can be applied early enough. This vaccine was fought vigorously by hardcore socially conservative groups and fools who feel that this vaccine would somehow encourage promiscuity. This nonsense has been losing steam and HPV vaccinations have been becoming more widespread and among both genders. I wrote awhile ago on my cousin Shawn’s battle with a cancer caused by HPV. The shot years ago would have saved him much more agony than any misguided efforts to preserve his chastity could have. Shawn and his wife have been working tirelessly to get the HPV vaccine extended to boys in Alberta as it had been predominantly given to girls.

The anti-vaccination gang while stinging from being utterly and totally discredited in their “vaccinations cause autism” bullshit have now put HPV solidly in their sights so that they may fill the void of idiocy left as the social conservatives gave up their opposition to this important vaccine. Armed with more links to conspiracy sites, youtube videos and other unfounded bullshit sites the anti-vaccination crowd is working hard to ensure cancers caused by HPV continue to harm people in the next generation. New conspiracies are being created along with more fabricated risks from vaccination.

I am long winded enough and I think I have made my thoughts pretty clear on the anti-vaccination bunch. I will save you some google time and provide two links below that put lie to this latest wave of idiocy and battling against beneficial medicine.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/08/09/antivaccinationists-against-the-hpv-vaccine-round-5000/

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/gardasil-researcher-against-vaccine-myth-debunked/

Don’t let the anti-vaccination conspiracy gang get a toehold on HPV vaccines. Let’s nip their misinformation in the bud and folks, get yourself and your kids vaccinated. You need only visit an old cemetery to see the young deaths that were so common prior to vaccination to see how it was. If you really want a dose of reality, ask some polio survivors what they think of people opposing the vaccines that would have saved them from childhood agony and a lifetime crippled.

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Alberta tragedy; Redford’s Michener Centre closure.

If I am to be measured on the political scale, I land pretty strongly on the libertarian side of things. I want to see a minimal amount of government in our lives along with a maximum amount of personal freedoms. People often confuse this sort of outlook with anarchism though which would mean having a truly survival of the fittest sort of world with no boundaries or general social obligations. Anarchism is not reasonable in a modern world.

The scope of ethical obligations that we have as human beings to take care of our neighbors is large and usually very debatable. In the minds of all but the most extreme, we as a society have an obligation to take care of those who CAN’T take care of themselves. The problem that we always have is in defining who actually can’t take care of themselves as opposed to those who won’t take care of themselves.

There is very little to debate in the above regard when it comes to the status of the remaining 125 or so residents of the Michener Centre in Red Deer. These Albertans are afflicted with serious developmental disabilities and they will always be in need of the kind of specialized care that they are getting in the Michener Centre. Despite what appears to pretty much anybody as as self-evident need in societal care that had been provided by the facility, the Redford government has unexpectedly decided to close Michener Centre and displace every one of it’s residents.

In a zeal and rush to close the facility, the government has issued some pretty weak statements essentially trying to paint Michener Centre as being some nasty sort of institution where residents are languishing in misery while separated from society. The sterilizations that ended over 40 years ago are mentioned and it is implied that the place is right from a scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It is blathered over and over again that residents will simply be placed in the “community” though it is not really specified just what that will mean.

Last week I attended a meeting held by “Friends of Michener Centre” in Calgary. This group was formed by concerned family members who have loved-ones living at the facility. It was both informative and heartbreaking to hear from those who have had to deal the most directly in caring for people with serious developmental disabilities. The challenges faced by and the strength demonstrated by the families of Michener Centre residents came through clearly in that couple hours. It is sad that not a single one of Redford’s MLAs could come to that meeting as they would have been able to get a better image of what damage is being wrought by their thoughtless decision to close Michener Centre.

One theme that was constant as people shared their stories is how each Michener Centre resident’s needs and circumstances were quite unique and how critical consistency of care is for each of them. One lady spoke of how her brother been bumped from group home to group home until after putting a chair through a window he was finally admitted into Michener Centre for the last 17 years of his life. While in Michener Centre this man got to settle in and a caring staff learned to deal with his unique and special needs. The stability he needed only came upon getting into a facility such as Michener Centre.

The gentleman hosting the meeting told an interesting story of his brother who had been a Michener Centre resident. His brother had been admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection and while in there staff was mystified with why he would not open his mouth to eat. This was during the H1N1 outbreak so staff were outfitted with full infection control outfits. While those outfits could discomfort pretty much anybody if unfamiliar with them, they were outright terrifying to the poor fellow with a serious developmental disability. Of course he would not let these alien people feed him. The staff were not in the wrong of course, they simply did not understand that unique circumstances of the gentleman they had in their care. The story again drives home why consistency and specialized facilities and staff are so essential for people with serious PDDs.

After the meeting, I decided to look further into things. I tracked down and spoke with a couple people who had each worked at and around Michener Center for over 30 years each. The stories were not of a place with terrible institutional abuses and misery. The picture painted is one of a facility that was a community in itself that went to great pains to create the best conditions possible for their clients. One of the best was in hearing how one of the clients was of Asian decent so staff sought out Asian themed decorations for his room (and they sought to decorate to please all of their residents of course). This reminds one that Michener Centre is not an acute care facility, it is a home to the residents and should remain so. On the sadder side, I was told of funerals for some residents that passed away which were only attended by staff as these people had no remaining family outside of the facility. Think of what moving these people will do to them.

Having a centralized facility such as Michener Centre allows for more specialized services to be maintained and developed as well. Having doctors and pharmacists on site allows for much better diagnosis, prescribing and monitoring of medications as many clients needed medications. Dental and other care is provided on site as well in ways that never could be done for persons with serious developmental disabilities in a smaller group-home setting. I was told that people from outside group homes are brought to Michener Centre for their dental care as most dentists will not treat them or don’t have the skills required to do so. Where will they go now?

As was driven home at the meeting, Michener Centre is a community and a family. Driving the residents out of there is a needless and possibly catastrophic disruption to these people. It has been said that many of the residents will be sent to seniors care facilities. Really? Are seniors centers really able to care for these people with such special needs? Do they have the space or the resources? What will this do to seniors already residing in those facilities? This just sounds utterly senseless.

In driving around the Michener Centre grounds last weekend, it could be seen that some facilities are getting a bit dated (though hardly dysfunctional). The campus is very large though and if anything we should be investing to expand and improve the facilities for people with PDDs rather than driving them out and scattering them.

Michener Centre is on 300 acres of pretty prime land in Red Deer. While nothing has been confirmed, there are many rumors about plans for that land once it is vacated. Sadly in that context, one can see the underlying motivation in the Redford government’s zeal to displace these most vulnerable of Alberta’s citizens. If the efforts to save the Michener Centre fail, we must watch very carefully to see just what Redford (along with friends and family) does with the land. Why else would her government rip into this facility having so recently promised never to do so (though broken promises from Redford are hardly few or unexpected).

The closure of Michener Centre is not a done deal yet. If enough people stand up and demonstrate a backlash, I do think Redford will back down on this closure. Redford never apologizes or admits wrong, but she will quietly kill initiatives that prove to harm her political well-being and that is all that matters. Alison Redford will be lucky to survive the wrath of her own party at this fall’s leadership review. She is very sensitive to public pressure right now so let’s exert it.

There is a facebook page for Friends of Michener Centre here. Give the page a like and look around for more information on upcoming actions and events.

Call or write your MLA to express how this closure is a mistake. It may not feel like it but they really do notice when public ire is rising on something. That will only happen if we speak up of course. Be sure to encourage others to speak up on this as well.

Finally, one can attend a rally on April 10, in support of Michener Centre. This is being organized by the AUPE with details in the picture below. When you see me promoting something being organized by a union, you know something serious is happening.

michener

Let’s let Redford know that she is really crossing the line on this one.

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Want to conserve a resource? Make it a commodity!

An unfortunate reality is that the more critical a resource is to the population at large is, the more likely and effective efforts will be to put the management of the resource fully and directly into the hands of governments. I say this is unfortunate as when a resource is collectivized; a sense of consumer entitlement arises leading to even more consumption and more irresponsible management of the resource.

Few resources demonstrate the above principle more clearly than fresh water. Based on the simple reality that fresh water is indeed essential in life, advocates for intrusive government expand from there in demanding that water never be traded or used as a commodity in a private manner. What is overlooked whether purposely or not is that water already is a tradable commodity and it must be in order for modern society to function. Industry and agriculture have been purchasing water since the invention of canals.

Despite the hysterics of groups such as the Council of Canadians, nobody is really coming to steal or buy all of Canada’s fresh water. Our supply of fresh water as a nation is quite safe. Treated water for household use and consumption however is indeed a resource that is expensive to produce and hard to keep up with citizen’s demands for it.

Last Saturday evening was dedicated as the time for people to observe “earth hour” as designated by the international lobby corporation known as the World Wildlife Fund. Despite ads, gimmicks and general lobbying, Calgary happily ignored the hype and I am proud to report that we as a city showed utterly no change in our energy use as during this hour of greenwashing. The usual suspects in the environmentalist world are of course decrying us as rednecks and enemies of the earth for ignoring their foolish little exercise.

Assuming that Calgarians are indeed the heartless, environment-destroying, capitalist bastards that some in other regions like to try and paint us, how on earth did we manage to be the city with the lowest per-capita water consumption numbers in the country?

What inspired so many Calgarians to install low-flow toilets, track down leaking pipes, use rain-barrels and reduce the amount of treated water that we pour on to our lawns? Was it successful lobbying by Greenpeace and the like with their door-to-door work and flyer drops? Was it ads in the paper wagging collective fingers at us for overconsumption? Was it an earth-shattering speech from a civic leader? None of the above apply of course. The key element in the reduction of Calgary’s domestic water use has been household water metering!

I know that we like to envision society as being altruistic to the point that they will embrace every conservation initiative that is fed to them but in reality it is only self-interest that moves people en masse to change anything. Through making water a measurable commodity that people pay for based on individual use Calgary succeeded where decades of socialized water distribution failed. By simply being charged by the liter and being able to see a measure of household use, citizens were suddenly inspired to seek effective ways to reduce their consumption.

Hipsters do love their irony so they should appreciate the figure below from Statistics Canada.

Chart 4 Households in single-detatched dwellings more likely to use water-saving fixtures

wateruse

While the majority of our urban density zealots who preach of the wasteful lifestyles of suburbs live in dense neighborhoods (and their parent’s basements in the suburbs), it appears that they have some issues in practicing what they preach. Why is it that the areas most densely packed with environmental idealists are not embracing water consumption reduction initiatives nearly as much as those evil bourgeoisie devils in single detached homes?

The answer is pretty simple; in apartments and other multi-unit dwellings utilities and resources such as water are much more likely to be collectivized. Renters abound and utilities are often bundled in with their rent. Despite high-idealism, direct incentive to reduce consumption is not seen  so consumption simply isn’t reduced. Like most socialists, it is expected that somebody else has to do it but the demands on everybody else are to be shrill, sanctimonious and as can be seen, often hypocritical.

The principle of making a resource a commodity in order to control consumption works pretty much anywhere. Environmentalists love to screech indignantly at the practices of logging companies. One would assume that crown land under the tight scrutiny and control of government would be where best practices would occur then no?

In reality, private woodlots are far more efficiently managed than crown lands. While only 11% of Canada’s woodlots are privately owned, 19% of our timber products come from them. Private woodlots are carefully managed for erosion control, esthetics and of course productivity. Sustainability and replanting are critical simply due to the element of self-interest in maintaining a healthy, balanced forest. That is not to say that no sustainable practices are done on public lands, this is just pointing out that private practices prove to be superior to public management.

If public ownership of resources were the key to wise environmental practices and sustainable growth, China would be leading the world in clean industry.

If public ownership of critical resources led to more efficient production and a sustainable cost of living, Soviet Russia would have had the most stable food supply on the planet. Google bread-lines or starvation in Ukraine to see what happens when government is given the management of a resource simply on the premise that because it is critical that it should not be left in private hands. Food is a need. Despite that, government management of food has always proven to be a failure with extremely dire consequences.

We need to keep these principles in mind when looking at other resources too. Where are our largest areas of public expenditure? Where are these expenditures growing the fastest?

Healthcare and education prove to be the most important issues to voters and both are proving to be unsustainable to the public purse. Because of massive government subsidization and control, a sense of entitlement has caused an unsustainable trend in demand and direct management of these resources. Nations are going bankrupt around the planet due to entitlements and as we see all levels of government in North America spending far more than they bring in it is clear that we are heading towards a crash as well.

Water and food are needs and we have found that treating them as commodities has been the best way to ensure that these needs are sustainably managed for all. Healthcare and Education are needs as well yet we refuse to recognize them as commodities due to flawed and outdated ideologies.

It should not be an entitlement to go to an emergency room without direct personal cost every time your child has the sniffles nor does every child need post-secondary education. Treating healthcare and education as commodities would mean directing resources towards real need rather than entitled wants. This is not to say that we need to move to a fully private model for either of these areas by any means. What this means is that we have to change how we look at these resources in a new way if we really actually want to conserve them in the most responsible manner.

Whether we like it or not, government resources are finite. We simply can’t fund everything to keep up with every entitled demand by interest groups. We have to look at supply realistically before trying to fill every demand.

I know people fear private provision of services. If we continue to live beyond our collective means as we are now though, the dog-eat-dog system that will come post-crash will make controls that we could make now appear to be a cake-walk. Have a look at Spain, Greece or Russia for examples.

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Health care “premiums” are a tax. Say it like it is.

To say that the Redford government is up the fiscal creek is an incredible understatement. The Redford led Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta won the 2012 election on a platform of false revenue projections and completely unsustainable spending promises that can only be called outright lies. Fiscal reality has come home to roost and Alberta is now facing a catastrophically large budgetary deficit.

Like rats from a sinking ship, Alison Redford’s communications staff are bailing out as they know that participating in the festival of lies demanded to try and polish Redford’s turd of a budget will only destroy any future hopes of work within the field of communications. The lack of communications strength was quite clear and visible in Alison Redford’s bizarre address to Albertans where she spit out blame and excuses for the disaster of her own making while really saying nothing else of merit. Even the Alison Redford’s twitter account appears to have been assigned to somebody with the communications skills of a six year old as petulant tweets attacking radio hosts are sent out.

Now that is has been pretty clearly established that Redford has reduced her communications staff to one of the most expensive yet simplistic groups in the nation, we can speculate on where they plan to go to try and dig their administration out of this embarrassing hole.

Redford has now claimed that she will not raise taxes despite the gargantuan deficit that she created. This leaves her in something of a quandary. A simplistic way to get around this of course is to label a tax something else. That is exactly what happens when we hear speech on health care “premiums” and predictably we are hearing rumblings that the health care tax may be reinstated.

The general health care tax that was mislabelled as a “premium” was one of Alberta’s most regressive and inefficient taxes ever. While the tax provided little burden to high income earners, it was quite onerous for people and families on fixed incomes. The health care tax was very difficult to administer and a very large portion of the generated revenue was lost through collections and administration.

The funds from the health care tax were never kept in a separate dedicated fund for health expenditures. The health care tax was indiscriminate of the payer’s own health or lifestyle. Healthy people and sick people paid the same “premium” and all revenues went into general revenues. That is why no matter how some try to say it, the health care tax is a tax and not a “premium” by any measure. Redford’s communication army should try something new through telling the truth for a change. Admit a tax increase for crying out loud. It’s not as if Albertans have not already concluded that Redford is full of bullshit. We won’t be fooled now.

Some claim that a health care tax helps teach Albertans the true cost of health care. Unless the health care tax is at least a few thousand dollars a year, that simply is not true. A few years ago, I encountered a somewhat informed lefty who was convinced that the monthly “premium” that he paid for health care accounted for his entire costs in health care.  The monthly payment actually added to confusion about the real cost of care in our socialised monopolistic health care system.

Perhaps bringing in a health care tax is a good idea or perhaps it is not. Let’s not cloak this in bullshit though and call it what it is; a tax increase and another broken Redford promise if it comes about.

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Socialized medicine is rationed medicine.

With health care consistently polling as the top concern for Canadians it is sad yet unsurprising that so many people see queue jumping by people with connections as being one of the prime problems of the system. In Alberta we are currently holding a nice sidetrack of an inquiry into queue jumping that appears to be heading nowhere. Meanwhile all the real problems with our unsustainable health care system are being overlooked.

People appear to be more concerned that perhaps some professional hockey players managed to get a flu-shot ahead of them in line than they are with the fact that our waiting times for care are simply unreasonable.

Set your sense of envy aside and realize that queue jumping would be a non-issue if our wait times for care were reasonable in the first place!

Wait times for emergency and general primary care in Canada are among the longest in the developed world.

Wait times for specialized treatment are terrible in Canada too.

THE BOY PICTURED ABOVE IS NOW PERMANENTLY PARALYZED AFTER WAITING 27 MONTHS FOR A SPINAL OPERATION! 

People are suffering and dying on waiting lists in Canada as our system fails us despite massive increases in expenditures over decades. The fact that some people managed to jump line now and then is only a symptom of the much larger problem. If you want to get angry, get outraged that the poor child above could have avoided paralyzation had he not been caught in our inflexible system.

People are jumping the line for health care every day in Canada. The majority of these people are leaving the country to do it. These are not rich people, these are desperate people. People are borrowing from friends and family and people are mortgaging their homes to leave Canada for timely medical treatment. If you were told that you needed treatment within months but could not get in for years, what would you do?

Doctors leave Canada to chase those dollars as well. In a gross irony, many people leave Canada and pay for treatment that happens to be carried out by a Canadian trained doctor as our brain drain continues. Among the systemic reforms that we need, cost effective retention of health professionals is a huge one.

We need systemic change in Canada. One commonality in all of the countries that have universal coverage (yes I repeat they still have universal coverage) yet blow us away in medical wait times is that those countries have mixed private/public health systems. Yes, in those countries some people pay cash for faster treatment than others at times. If this leads to shorter times for everybody though, why the hell not? Suck back the envy and enjoy the shortened wait time that the queue jumper just subsidized out of pocket for you.

Getting the best health possible means we have to look at the best systems and emulate them. Currently only Korea and Cuba share Canada’s system of banning private involvement to this degree. Let’s look to the top and see how we can get there. Before we can do so though, we have to accept that our system itself is failing. We also have to get over our envy and use common sense.

I expect the usual commenters beaking about the American system so let me get this out of the way now: I could not care less about the American system. There are hundreds of other systems in the world and dozens and dozens of them have better outcomes for dollars spent than Canada does. Don’t waste the text trying to polarize an issue that has many facets with the shallow black and white Canada/USA system comparisons.

If we want to see an end to these unreasonable waiting times for health care, we need to admit that we need to change our entire system. Every province in Canada has been constantly increasing spending on health care and wait times are increasing despite that.

Queue jumping is not our problem. A broken system sustained by sentiment and stubborn envy is our problem. I hope we realize this and fix things before we see a true health system failure.

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Walla walla bing bang.

Yes folks our Alberta’s provincial government has moved beyond being simply inept and arrogant into the world of the bizzare.

Heathcare consistently ranks as a prime issue with Albertans. With waiting lists hitting critical levels despite massive annual increases in government spending, our brilliant Health Minister Fred Horne has taken it upon himself to give naturopaths full status as “medical professionals”.  

For those wisely not familiar with naturopaths, these cranks tend to practice such brilliant therapies as homeopathy and touch therapy among other forms of quackery. They tend towards conspiracy theories and generally are against medical advancements such as, drugs, vaccines and effective treatment of ailments.

I won’t go into too much detail as to why naturopathy is quackery as it has been so thoroughly covered by many others. I will put a couple links below to save some googling.

A Close Look at Naturopathy Stephen Barrett, M.D.

More naturopathic nonsense in Ontario

Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake

Below I will add a link to a bit by my my favorite libertarians (Penn and Teller).

Their shows are laden with expletives but they do such an excellent job of debunking the “alternative” medicine movement that they are well worth watching.

People can go waste whatever money, time and health they like with whatever crackpot treatment they like. It is their money and their bodies.

When we are talking about the sanctioning of practices by our government though, we must stick to EVIDENCE BASED MEDICINE. 

Yes, there has been a process set about to determine what falls under evidence based medicine. Double blind studies, peer review and proven results are the sort of hurdles that treatments are expected to pass before being considered evidence based.

Naturopaths of course reject the concept of evidence based medicine. That is not surprising considering pretty much no naturopathic treatments can withstand proper medical scrutiny.

Don’t listen to crap people spit out about how the treatments have been around for hundreds of years. People used to drill holes in the skulls of patients to let the demons out hundreds of years ago, that does not make it a valid treatment. The average life expectancy a couple hundred years ago was 36 years. Is that something to aspire to?

There are claims that now that naturopathy has a college, they will be able to self-govern. Oh good, quacks governing quacks. That should ensure effective treatment.

Don’t let them snow you pointing out how long naturopathic quacks have gone to school. A person could spend decades in school studying astrology, that person still will not be able to predict the future and will be as well trained to treat ailments as your typical naturopath.

Government sanction of naturopathy adds to the facade of legitimacy for these quacks. You can rest assured that naturopaths will soon be demanding public funding for their pap and considering government is sanctioning them, it very well could happen.

Our healthcare system is under pressure and is crit

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OK now folks, raise your hand if you thought that smoking wasn’t bad for you.

The Redford government has launched a $10 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies for what appears to be two reasons:

1. To desperately try and find the funds required to pay for the massive spending promises Redford made in the last election.

2. To filter money to her ex-husband’s law-firm as it has unsurprisingly managed to land the contract for the suit and could potentially make millions.

The Alberta government has already reaped many billions of dollars in revenues from tobacco taxes over the years. This lawsuit is the equivalent of a drug pusher suing his supplier for the damage having been caused to his clients while he continues to push the product. The tobacco industry is so heavily regulated and taxed by the provincial government that the government is an outright partner in the distribution and sales of the product.

One common vapid defense for these kinds of lawsuits is claiming that people did not know that cigarettes were bad for them because tobacco companies so effectively hid the adverse health effects of smoking. Come on people, that is nothing less than a load of crap. People have known smoking is bad for them for nearly a century now and most were not so stupid as to fall for ads understating the risks from tobacco companies.

To prove my point I am thrilled to be be able to link to a piece by some of the most brilliant entertainers of our time. Yes, I am speaking of the Three Stooges of course.

 In this episode, the stooges have won a large prize from the “Coffin Nail cigarette company” at about the five minute mark if you want to watch it. The term “coffin nails” being used as a slang term for cigarettes has clearly been around since at least 1938 as demonstrated by Larry, Curly and Moe. The origin of that term is of course because people knew that smoking tended to send people to an early grave thus cigarettes were compared to adding nails to the coffin.

 While the full extent of health damages caused by tobacco may not have been known 80 years ago, it is pretty clear that nobody was under any illusion that there was not a health risk associated with smoking.

The above point is key because these lawsuits are predicated on the assumption that nobody really knew that smoking was bad for them until the 1980s or so. That assumption is simply not true.

The other flaw in these lawsuits is the calculation of apparent health costs due to smokers. The numbers being drawn up by anti-smoking activists and class action vultures like Redford’s ex-husband are brutally flawed. It has to be assumed that non-smokers will never get sick or die for the numbers to be correct with the alleged health costs due to smoking. Believe it or not, non-smokers can get chronic and expensive illnesses too. While it sounds unbelievable, I have to point out that non-smokers indeed do eventually die and often cost the healthcare system a great deal of money on their way out the door as well.

Most people use the vast majority of their healthcare consumption in the last couple decades of their lives. You can visit with some of the healthiest of people in their 70s and I assure you that they still will be able to draw you a long list of the medications that they are on, the procedures that they have had done and the very frequent schedule of visits to health professionals. I am not holding that against these people of course, but it does have to be faced that senior citizens are very expensive to care for health wise. Now it needs to be noted that seniors are not contributing income taxes and such as they used to as well and that many are drawing from government services such as OAS and subsidized care for decades.

In light of all of the above the case could be made in a very cold way that coupled with massive tax revenues to government, smoking may indeed actually save the public purse money in that it takes so many people out at a young age thus saving the costs associated with a 30 year retirement. It is indeed clear that the costs of smoking to governments are greatly exaggerated to say the least.

Now before the chorus of offended health zealots harms my virtual ears let me say that I do not see tobacco consumption in any amount is good for people or for society at large in any way. I am not advocating that people should die young in order to save the system money or that smoking does not still cost us all in lost productivity or even the emotional costs of seeing loved ones dying early due to health issues associated with smoking.

What I am saying is that we must stop being disingenuous in the efforts to demonize and sue a legal entity. Lets base this stuff on real facts before moving forward and lets start embracing some personal responsibility here.

I started smoking while young and only managed to quit a few years ago. I was never under the illusion for a moment that smoking was not bad for me. I did have that youthful “it will never happen to me” attitude but knew deep down that smoking was harming me. Since quitting I have packed on a fair degree of weight which is not a healthy thing either. Now regulating my diet and exercise is my responsibility as well but it should be pointed out that stopping people from smoking does not mean that they will immediately become healthy in every other way.

Governments ban all sorts of drugs, items and even simple pesticides based on those things being unhealthy to people. If the government really feels that smoking is so harmful, they really should ban the practice altogether. Will this lawsuit stop people from smoking? No! Again this legal action is nothing less than a corrupt and hypocritical money grab. Even after the suit government will continue to profit from the massive taxes levied on tobacco products.

Where indeed will this end? What other companies that are legally operating and following every government regulation may be sued for damages to people consuming their products? Will Sifto Salt be sued because people use too much salt? Over-consumption of salt is epidemic in North America and it is a proven killer so why not? Soft drinks? Meat packers? None of the aforementioned examples are unrealistic at all should the province win this lawsuit. How about ski hills? Orthopedic injuries cost a fortune in surgeries and lost productivity.

I guess we will simply have to watch and wait on this one. It is sad that government has to rely on shaky lawsuits to backstop their irresponsible spending.

 

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Outcome or ideology? Which is more important to you?

 

There are few sacred-cows that have been more carefully crafted and fiercely protected than that of Canada’s health care system.

Tommy Douglas has been essentially canonized as a founder of our system and it is considered blasphemy to dare even consider questioning the merit of the system. Politicians and journalists alike are pilloried should they ever dare suggest that Canada’s health system may not be the best one on the entire planet. If health system issues should ever arise, the only appropriate response to the zealous is the addition of more funding. Systemic change is simply unacceptable.

Now back to reality. The World Health Organization used to publish comprehensive rankings of health systems based on accessibility, cost and outcomes. Unfortunately they have not done this since 2000. In their last ranking though, Canada was 30th and dropping like a stone when compared to other nations.  Considering we have changed nothing systemically in the last 10 years, it can be safely assumed that the trend has continued.

The most successful systems in the world have involved a mixture of public and private involvement while maintaining universal access. This is not conjecture. This is documented fact. The only other systems that legislate such a degree of government monopoly in them as Canada are North Korea and Cuba. I assure you those countries are not good models to follow.

When the word “private” is used almost immediately people begin chirping about the American system. There should almost be some form of “Godwin’s law” that applies to the insertion of the big bad American boogyman in healthcare discussion. As soon as some fool takes the leap to bring up the American system, they immediately shall have been deemed to have lost the debate.

I am going to expose the big secret here: THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF HEALTH SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD AND DOZENS OF THEM ARE SUPERIOR TO THE CANADIAN AND AMERICAN ONES!!

Protectors of the status-quo (usually unions) constantly try to shut down discussion by trying to polarize debate. It is simply shallow and foolish to assume that Canada and the USA are the only two health-care systems in the world yet if we look at most Canadian discussion it would appear that way.

Another secret is that we have private provision all over the place. There are countless private labs, clinics and yes even hospitals in operation in Canada. Unfortunately, these facilities are still constrained by our inflexible system and often have to be almost snuck into the system by politicians who realize the need for expansion of our provision options but are afraid to dare question the sanctity of the status-quo.

We need to rip down this facade and have a real discussion. Hysterics and demonization of all who dare question the status-quo is harming us all.

We all have to ask ourselves; what is more important; the outcomes or personal ideology?

This is what it comes down to. The outright dismissal of private involvement is an ideology. The polarization of the discussion is an ideology. The self-blinding to all other discussion is an ideology.

We need to open the discussion and look to the best systems if we want to improve our own. I was impressed with Danielle Smith in last night’s debate in her being willing to entertain examining other means of health provision while the other 3 leaders stuck to the cowardly and closed minded defense of the unsustainable and failing status-quo. The whispered and shouted fearmongering continue about the Wildrose Party as ideologues dismiss any notion of real solutions and try to quell all discussion.

We need to stop the politics of envy, fear and division so that we can have a frank examination of our healthcare system based on what can lead to the best outcomes rather than the zealous and closeminded approach that we have had so far. Healthcare consistently ranks at the top of people’s concerns in politics yet it is the issue with which we are the most reticent in discussion.

Take off the ideological blinders and pursue what works best. It really is as simple as that. I am optimistic that a Wildrose government may be willing to be the first in a long time to do so.

 

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A cousin with a cause.

In many ways 2011 was simply not a good year in my family particularly when it came to cancer. Jane and I lost a sister-in-law to lung cancer (she never smoked a day in her life), a niece lost an eye to cancer and my cousin Shawn went through a gruelling ordeal and treatment for oropharynegeal cancer from which he is still recovering. Cancer is such a horrible disease and it effects everybody and every family eventually.

In 2009 I was found to have a tumour on my submandibular salivary gland. While it turned out the be benign, the waiting through multiple tests and the fear was life changing. I wrote on it here.   I still have that mass under my jaw but it still is not causing problems thankfully so we can continue to defer it’s removal.

 I still am not a health nut but I still don’t smoke. While cancer can be unavoidable, there are many life practices and other things that can be changed or done to reduce our chances of getting hit. There is no sense inviting this terrible disease into our lives.

 This brings us back to my cousin Shawn. HPV is a virus that we really are only beginning to learn about as a modern society. It has been known for some time that it can cause cervical cancer in girls and a vaccine has been developed. Currently only girls are covered for vaccination though as proven by Shawn’s battle the virus can cause horrific damage to men as well. Shawn and his family are recovering. Shawn’s wife Susan however is not stopping at simply their own recovery. She is now working to help fight preventable cancers through increasing the scope of HPV vaccination.

 Below is the story and plea from Susan. Please take it under serious consideration:

 

My husband Shawn Morgan was diagnosed with Oropharynegeal Cancer August 17, 2011. Stage IV. His cancer is the result HPV. They found a tumour at the base of his tongue (also common with HPV cancer) and the cancer cells metastasized to his lymph nodes. He is 43 years old and has never been sick. He actually was the picture of health – worked out daily – coached our boys’ sports teams – ate well – social drinker.

Now our lives have been completely changed by this cancer. Shawn endured 7.5 weeks of treatment chemo and radiation. For this type of cancer the radiation is all in your mouth. For 35 days your mouth is essentially burned. These patients have open sores in their mouth, on their tongues; some lose the ability to properly swallow. Most end up on a feeding tube because they cannot endure the pain of eating. Most patients lose 20 – 50 lbs. Once done treatment they slowly have to try and eat again – however they now have thick mucus in their mouth that they constantly gag on when they try to swallow food and they have no saliva.

Currently my husband is slowly recovering – what are his side effects: no taste buds, no saliva, no appetite, a constant sore throat and thick mucus in his mouth. He forces himself to eat and one meal can take up to 90 minutes. Without saliva you have to chew your food very fine before you can swallow it. They cannot tell Shawn how much better he will get so at 43 he is left to wonder is this as good as it gets… eating is a form of torture.  

When I realized Shawn’s cancer was the result of HPV– I could be a carrier – can be transmitted skin to skin – or touch not just sexual activity I was ASTOUNDED!! Then when I was told girls get the vaccination in grade 5 but not boys I was angry……. I want to make a difference I want to put a face – a family to HPV so the general public understands what it can cause and why vaccinating boys is so important.

This year I want to spread the news about HPV vaccinations and why the provincial government needs to vaccinate boys. The cost factor does not make sense… if you think about how much money the Tom Baker Centre spent treating Shawn and several others in his group who had HPV– the cost of their treatment has to be harder on the health care system then direct the cost of vaccination program. Then there is the basic truth you will save young men from suffering a horrific cancer – seems very straight forward to me!

I know over the next several years we are going to see more cancers related to this virus and I do not want any families to go thru what we have. I WILL NOT STOP until my story is heard, told many times over and MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

I know the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization will be meeting shortly to review the HPV vaccination program for boys and I want to make sure Dr. Corriveau remembers my story. I want to make sure Dr. Corriveau our Chief Medical Officer for Alberta does what is right and supports the public interest. 70 % of the population are carriers of HPVthe majority of us fight off the virus and nothing happens. Those whose immune system cannot fight the virus get cancer. My Husband, Shawn Morgan was one of those unlucky few and I will not stop telling our story until someone listens.

Susan and Shawn Morgan

 

Please email Dr. Corriveau directly:  andre.corriveau@gov.ab.ca

 

CC: our Health Minister Fred Horne: health.minister@gov.ab.ca

 

In the subject line put: It’s okay for boys to get cancer. THE HPV VACCINATION PROGRAM DISCRIMINATES

 

In the content put:

 

The HPV vaccination program should not discriminate. Both boys and girls are HPV carriers and both can get cancer. Do what is right!

 

We want the HPV vaccination program provincially funded for boys. Shawn and Susan and their boys have suffered and still continue to suffer as many others do as a result of HPV cancer. I do not want that to happen to my family. The Provincial government should stop discriminating and support a HPV vaccination program for boys.

 

 

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Do we want the best or not?

 Year after year, poll after poll we see that health care is considered far and away to be the most important issue to Albertans whether left, right or center. We also see constant stories of shortcomings in our current system. Recently we have literally seen a doughnut shop being used as an ER because a BC hospital was over capacity. People have been literally dying on waiting lists and we are seeing health facilities in dire need of upgrading or repair.

 Two facts are evident here.  One is that health care is paramount in importance to Albertans and that the system is not performing in a satisfactory way. People say that they want the “best”. OK fair enough but how do we determine what is actually the best? Lets look at a few measures.

Spending.

 Almost invariably when shortcomings are pointed out in the system, defenders of the status-quo (unions) suddenly claim that our system is one of perfection and that we simply are underfunding it.

 Alberta has tripled health care spending in the last decade. Despite that massive increase in expenditure, our waiting lists continue to grow and our infrastructure continues to crumble.  if spending alone were the measure of a successful system, the United States are clearly the most successful health care providers on the planet as they spend more by every measure on health care than any developed nation on the planet.

 Many health systems that can brag better results than Canada spend less in measures of per-capita spending and in percentage of gross domestic product. It is pretty safe to say that this means that we can see better results in health care without spending more money if we are willing to change how we do things.

 It must be kept in mind that the most vocal groups for increased spending are unions and their side lobby groups (Friends of Medicare). Despite what they may claim, unions simply do not have the interests of patients in mind (nor should they, the workers are their mandate). Note that the unions constantly call for “more beds”, not more doctors, more procedures, more drug coverage, more preventative medicine or more diagnostic equipment. The reason for this is simply that more beds translates into more union staff whether nurses, janitorial or even in laundry services. If we got all of the other things, we would need less beds as people would not be languishing in hospitals awaiting treatment as they are now. The unions are simply doing their job in that their interest is nothing more than gaining and maintaining more union workers. That always has to be kept in mind when they call for more spending in health however.

World health spending rates can be found here. Canada is near the top in this at least.

Beds per 10,000

 While beds and the need for them can represent a shortcoming in timely treatment, we certainly do need a measure of them. As Canada is among the world leaders in spending, how do we rank among beds? Not too well I fear.

Canada ranks 40th behind such economic powerhouses as Uzbekistan and Palau

 Again beds alone are pretty limited in what they indicate and in what they provide in health services. All the same, if we are going to lead in spending, why are we not leading in such measures as this?

Doctors

                   One thing that greatly reduces the need for hospital beds is having an adequate number of doctors and specialists treating patients so that they can be back on their feet again. An increased number of doctors helps reduce the load on the system by diagnosing and treating patients earlier while many conditions still remain more easily treatable.

 Canada ranks 58th in doctors per capita behind such nations as Moldova and Uruguay with 2.1 doctors per 1000 people.

 Gaining and maintaining doctors is not a simple task. Increasing the number of doctors we educate at home is good but it is no assurance that we will keep these recent graduates. Many newly trained Canadian doctors are quickly recruited by foreign countries that have more flexible health systems which are much more attractive to doctors than ours with essentially capped salaries and untenable hours of work. Our system hinders us in trying to draw foreign doctors in to Canada as well.

 It only makes sense that we examine comparable countries to our own and that we emulate what has been working with them.

Life Expectancy

 Many other factors come in when it comes to life expectancy. The local health care system has a huge impact on expectancies though.

In the world rankings, Canada is 11th in life expectancy. Not bad. I still like aspiring to the numbers of the 10 nations ahead of us though (all of whom have mixed health care provision systems).

Infant mortality

Infant mortality is a good measure. Certainly we can’t directly compare with third-world nations that are coping with malnutrition, clean water and getting simple vaccinations. In developed nations though, the infant mortality rate can give a good indication of how the pre-natal and birthing care have been. In Canada we rank 23rd. 

Universality

Universal care is a value that most Canadians share. Ironically, in our stubborn adherence to our flawed system many desperate Canadians are going to European and Asian nations in order to purchase procedures that they simply can no longer wait for in Canada. The irony is that these people are subsidizing the universal coverage of other nations while we languish with untenable waiting lists in Canada due to a twisted sense of “fairness” and an ingrained fear of “two-tier” care. Our socialized and rationed system is self-defeating in that people of means (or desperation) are still jumping the line and are taking their resources out of the country while they are at it. I wonder how many of these people end up getting treated by Canadian trained doctors in foreign nations? Which nations more truly have universal coverage?

 We as Canadians have had it driven into our heads our whole lives that Canada has the best health system on the planet while every measure possible is contrary to that assertion. We have actually built a system of service provision into our national identity which is sort of disturbing when you think of it.

 If we truly want to get the best health care possible for ourselves, we first have to admit that our system is not the best (in fact it isn’t even close to it). We then need to examine the systems that do rate as the best and emulate them.

 In all of the measures I referred to above, some countries consistently ranked near the top. France, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland all surpass us and only Switzerland spends more. One common element of the countries that are surpassing us is that they have set aside the notions of envy and socialism in order to pursue the best outcomes for patients. All of those countries allow a much greater degree of private provision and management than Canada does and that is no small denominator in why those countries enjoy better care than we do at less cost to all. All of those countries have universal coverage as well.

 When we look at the chronic crisis hitting Canada’s health system despite massive increases in expenditures, it becomes clear that change to Canada’s system is inevitable. What we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to proactively pursue that change now or if we will stubbornly hang on to our broken system until it collapses and change comes in a different way.

 I would prefer to pursue the best system myself.

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