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Why is health care in the US so expensive?
02:15 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Caudle is a board-certified family medicine physician and associate professor of family medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @DrJenCaudle. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

When I read that some physicians in the Canadian province of Quebec have signed a petition to halt salary increases, I was in the middle of a busy day seeing patients at my office in southern New Jersey. I turned to the doctor I share an office with and said, “Can you believe this? Doctors in Canada want to give up portions of their salaries,” I said. She turned to me looking bewildered. “Why?” she asked. “Well, they want the money to be redistributed to help other health care providers and patients.”

Dr. Jennifer Caudle

We stared at each other. Call me skeptical or a cynic – maybe I am – but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was astonished.

I wanted to understand why these physicians were arguing against a salary raise, so I found a link to the petition (written in French) and inserted the text into Google Translate. It is clear and straight to the point. This paragraph stood out to me:

“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec. “

God bless these physicians. This was my thought when I first read the petition, and it is how I feel now. I applaud them for stepping outside their exam rooms, evaluating what needs fixing, and trying to fix it.

As a family physician who has been in practice for approximately 10 years, I have seen many changes in health care over the years. I’ve seen the advent of innovative medical therapies, the inception of electronic medical records, new models of patient care, and more. I am also quite aware of some of the challenges – health outcome disparities, lack of access to and high cost of health care, prescription drug prices, staffing and physician shortages and much more.

Canada’s health care system is different but clearly faces its own difficulties, which these doctors are clearly trying to find new ways to address. And that, more than anything else, is what stands out to me about their efforts.

Their petition is both altruistic and proactive: two things that the best doctors and caregivers should be. According to news sources, physicians in Canada do have salaries that many would find exceptional. Foregoing a pay raise is admittedly different from inviting a pay cut. Even so, refusing to accept money so it can go to help others is selfless in today’s world. As a physician, I have often felt that my salary and work conditions have been dictated by others, like hospital or health system administration.

But this petition shows that it may not have to be this way. Canadian health care providers are taking the proverbial bull by the horns and advocating for conditions they feel are right, for themselves, their colleagues, and their patients.

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    To be sure, I do recognize that systems of health care – whether Canadian or American – are incredibly complex. Cost of health care, access and availability of care, medical education costs, political climate and other elements invariably influence what change we need and how to best accomplish it. There are also many ways of working to change things. As much as I admire these Canadian health care workers, I also recognize that a health care provider doesn’t have to offer up their salary to make a contribution to a better future.

    That being said, the point is that being proactive and coming together for the greater good is a wonderful thing. This petition is a reminder that there is room for more of this. I encourage my fellow health care providers to allow this petition to be an inspiration for us all to do more and come together to initiate change where it matters most – in the health and lives of others.