The Christmas Bonus.

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

For some reason Christmas is a time when every financial institution sees fit to bless me with a “free” credit card application? But, Visa and American Express cannot compete with the deal sitting in my wallet right now. I have been with this company for the last twenty years. This card is constructed of hardy plastic and I have not needed a replacement as yet. As a matter of fact, I have never received an invoice despite some big purchase items in the past. No one has sent me to a collection agency. It is a little uneasy using this credit card at times, since the places that honor it rarely know the cost of things I buy with it. I have given up trying to figure out the prices, since no one seems to know, and most feel that it does not matter since quality is the important thing? There are limits on where I can shop and sometimes the shelves are empty. The check-out lines are always long. Most people with these cards do not overspend, and men especially do not like to shop with it. Customer service is pretty good as long as you don’t have to call them on the phone. Losing your card does not present any problem. Simply march down to the company store, show some identification, answer a few questions and the replacement is on its way. I used to think that only Canadians have these cards, but I discovered that anyone wanting to be Canadian, or thinking they might be Canadian or even thinking that one day they may want to be Canadian, can get one too. What a bargain! In typical Canadian fashion, it is the non-Canadians who truly appreciate the privilege and value that having a card entitles one too. In many parts of the world, possession of this card is a sign of status representing freedom, democracy and the best of humanity. Others see it as an opportunity for theft and fraud.

Of course I am referring to your health card. A recent news story caught my eye. It seems that there are a few more of these credit cards floating around than there should be. Something in the order of 300,000 extra. It presents a very troublesome problem. I wonder what MasterCard would do if they discovered that 300,000 cards with unrestricted credit limits happen to be circulating “by mistake”. I am sure that all of these cards are not in the wrong hands. Some are probably just mislaid. I could not find out just how much medical service is charged to these cards as a whole, but would guess that it is substantial. The good news is that doing the math does suggest that 97% of us are perfectly legitimate users. And this makes it a particularly difficult problem since in formulating a solution one has to take care to not infringe on the rights of legitimate patients seeking care.

I am not certain what the solution is. My father believed in the bees and vinegar thing. If you are looking for bees, honey will attract more than vinegar. I think that Premier McGuinty may be on the right track. I say this because the new policy on old fridges stuck a familiar cord. It used to be that if you had one of these old inefficient freon-leaking beer fridges taking up space, it would cost a tidy sum to de-commission them. In the end, many people turned to their own de-commissioning means and the environment paid the price. Now, you can get a rebate by dragging the old ice-box to the junk pile. It seems to me that a similar strategy could be applied to health cards. Why not put a bounty of say $100 on found or unused health cards, no questions asked but information welcomed? I am certain that you would solve a big chunk of the problem in a hurry within reasonable costs. The savings could be substantial. We could follow the example of hydro bosses and put the money towards other worthy causes like giving the rest of us 3 million dollar bonuses to quit our jobs!

Open your wallet and gaze at one of the most precious things in your possession. Your health card symbolizes all the things that make Canadians special. In Canada, your health is not linked to who you are or the size of your bank account. Your fellow citizens see to it that you are provided for. The spirit of Christmas lives in Canada all year round. The best presents are those subtle things that have a way of sneaking up on you. Let us rejoice!

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