If you drive dangerously, you pay higher licence fees and automobile insurance rates. If you smoke, your life insurance costs more.
If you wander off to remote areas and get lost, some jurisdictions may charge you for the search-and-rescue costs. If you pollute or contaminate the environment, you may be responsible for the clean-up costs.
It’s pretty simple. Wilfully engaging in reckless behaviour often comes with a price. It’s up to you to decide whether the behaviour is worth the cost. It’s your choice.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is also your choice, but there are currently few monetary costs or consequences for choosing to not be vaccinated. That should change.
A report released in September by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found the average cost in Manitoba of hospital care for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 was nearly $25,000 per patient. That’s vastly higher than the average costs associated with hospitalizations for heart attacks ($7,000) or pneumonia ($800).
The CIHI report also found COVID-19 hospitalization in Manitoba that included ICU admission cost an estimated average of $54,800 per patient. In Alberta, it was a whopping $74,500 per patient. Those are the numbers for the first and second COVID-19 waves. The per-patient costs for the third and fourth waves are expected to be even higher.
The math is obvious. Treating just one critically ill COVID-19 patient costs more than caring for seven heart-attack patients, and about the same as caring for seven patients with serious pneumonia.
In a health-care system that was already struggling for adequate funding and staffing before the pandemic, the redeployment of staff and diversion of millions of scarce dollars for the treatment of COVID-19 patients is impacting the quality of care provided to those who have made the responsible choice to be vaccinated.
Because of COVID-19 hospitalizations, wait times for surgical procedures and diagnostic tests are beyond crisis levels. Serious illnesses are not being detected and/or treated as quickly as they should be. People are living in pain for longer periods of time, and there is no doubt others have died, or are at higher risk of death, because of delays in giving them the care they need.
Now that children aged five to 11 have been approved for COVID-19 vaccination, we are rapidly approaching the point when a serious COVID-19 infection in this province isn’t a matter of bad luck, but rather a matter of choice — the consequence of choosing to not be vaccinated.
Who should pay for that choice? At the moment, it’s taxpayers who cover the monetary costs, along with Manitobans who pay a physical cost, forced to wait longer for care. That’s not fair, and that’s why there is a growing sentiment that people who choose to not be vaccinated must shoulder more of the consequences of that decision.
There are many who feel that the wilfully unvaccinated have the advantage of knowing they have a health-care safety net to care for them, and would be far more likely to get vaccinated if that net weren’t there. They bluntly argue that people who decide to not be vaccinated should be denied care if they become infected with COVID-19.
That’s an extreme position that will never happen in Canada. Nobody will deny them health care. Beyond that, there is a public-health danger in having people loose in the community with serious, untreated COVID-19 infections.
The more realistic question is whether people who choose to not be vaccinated should bear some or all of the cost of their care if they become infected.
The Singapore government has decided they should. Effective Dec. 8, those who are "unvaccinated by choice" in that country will no longer have their medical costs for COVID-19 treatment paid by their government. They will be responsible for the payment of those costs.
Manitoba and its fellow provinces should consider following Singapore’s example. If the possibility of a COVID-19 infection, combined with barriers to participation in public activities, isn’t sufficient incentive to be vaccinated, perhaps the risk of being billed for tens of thousands of dollars will be.
Reckless behaviour often comes with a cost. It’s time "unvaccinated by choice" Manitobans learned that lesson.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.