Medical School and Code Blue (1999)
Gratzer attended medical school at the University of Manitoba from 1996–2000 and earned an M.D. in 2000. On November 15, 1996, during his first year of medical school, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published a letter to the editor from Gratzer criticizing a June 15, 1996 CMAJ report comparing reserve funds held by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) to those held by medical malpractice insurers in the United States.
While in medical school, Gratzer was a regular contributor of opinion columns to National Post, wrote a weekly opinion column for the London Free Press and the Halifax Sunday Herald, and wrote columns on health care that appeared in several major newspapers and magazines, including the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald. A 1997 Gratzer column "Being a young conservative is nothing to apologize for" said "I am a conservative. This is somewhat unfortunate, as people don't seem to understand how anyone under 40 can be right-wing." A 1999 Gratzer column "Raising the minimum wage hurts the poor it hopes to help" lamented that even "two of Canada's three right-leaning governments have chosen to hike their minimum wages" and that "minimum wage earners are not underpaid but underproductive" Gratzer won $250 as fourth place runner-up in 1998–1999 and won $2,500 as first prize in the 1999–2000 Felix Morley Journalism Competition of the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University for his newspaper columns.
During his second year of medical school, Gratzer began writing a book about problems with the Canadian health care system but could not get anyone interested. Rejection letters piled up after he completed the book and he had doubts about his ability to get taken seriously until his third year of medical school, when Robert Lecker, professor of English at McGill University and co-founder of ECW Press agreed to publish his book. In August 1999, during his fourth year of medical school, ECW Press published the 24-year-old Gratzer's first book, Code Blue: Reviving Canada's Health Care System
Gratzer wrote about deficiencies in Canadian health care and argued that they were the direct result of the system's design, and thus not amendable to simple reforms.The magicians believe that, with just the right combination of government regulations, medicare will magically work. The spendthrifts argue that more government spending would solve every problem – from the attitude of the grumpiest hospital orderly to the lengthiest waiting list for radiation therapy… On the surface, they seem have little in common. Both magicians and spendthrifts, however, believe in a government-run health care system. And while they don’t agree on the best way to reform medicare, they basically agree that government action will provide the solution.
Gratzer called for market-based reforms. He won praise from a former Member of Parliament, Stephen Harper, who wrote: “Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest public policy problem of the coming generation – government-controlled health care monopoly… Canada needs Gratzer’s solution.” Harper is now Prime Minister of Canada.
On May 4, 2000, Gratzer was awarded $25,000 by the Donner Canadian Foundation as winner of its second annual Donner Prize for best public policy book of 1999 for Code Blue. The book beat out works by Prof. Stéphane Dion, Member of Parliament and the previous Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and Bob Rae, former Premier of Ontario and the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
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