Not any more

Want fast care? Slip an MD some cash

In Canada on November 27, 2010 at 14:29

When their mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the twin sisters didn’t hesitate for a moment: They chose the surgeon they wanted and slipped him $2,000 in cash to bump their mother to the top of the waiting list.

“We wanted to save our mother,” Vivian Green said. “It was cash incentive, to buy our place ahead of everyone else.”

Green and her sister, Ora Marcus, say bribes are an open secret in the medical field. They grew up with a father who was an obstetrician at the Jewish General Hospital.

“If you have money, you live, and if you don’t, you die,” Green said.

Critics say the practice is illegal and unethical, but several patients who contacted The Gazette say offering envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars to surgeons has become a way to speed treatment in public hospitals.

One high-ranking physician who works with doctors at several Montreal hospitals told The Gazette that obstetricians often accept cash offered by expectant parents to ensure their doctor attends the delivery, rather than having to depend on whichever doctor is on call.

“I’ve learned that it’s current practice. … Everyone within these hospitals knows about it,” he said of the hush-hush payments. “It’s systemic, and it has been so for a long time now.”

The prices?

Minimum $2,000 to guarantee that a woman’s doctor will be there for the birth. “And it can go up to $10,000,” he added.

For general surgery, the cost runs between $5,000 to $7,000 to jump the wait list into the operating room, he said.

For Green and Marcus, the $2,000 got their mother’s operation bumped up -but not the surgeon they wanted.

Green and her mother initially offered cash to a surgeon at the Jewish General. He accepted an envelope but returned it within days, saying the operation was beyond his expertise.

Green was then referred to a doctor at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“We wanted to have the operation done by (someone) who we know is the best,” she said. She said she slid an envelope filled with $20 bills across the surgeon’s desk at the second appointment to set the surgery date.

“I gave it to him discreetly and he took it -he knew what was in the envelope,” she said. “He took the money and never showed up.”

Another member of his surgical team removed the tumour in September. Their 80-year-old mother died this month of the cancer.

The family plans to file a formal complaint, Green said, because patients are helpless. “Payment for services should be stopped.”

But patients who get what they want won’t complain, she noted.

Karine Rivard, press attache to Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc, said that the Health Department has never heard of the practice.

“But if this is the case, then it’s unacceptable,” Rivard said.

After consulting Bolduc, Rivard called back: “Minister Bolduc is urging people who are aware of it to report it to

the Quebec College of Physicians.”

Paul Saba, a primary care physician at Lachine Hospital, said that not only has he heard of the practice but that he, too, has been offered gifts for quicker access to care.

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