Here in Ontario, home to one-third of all Canadians and bastion of socialized medicine, this Christmas is no time to get sick.

Hospitals in the province are closing many of their beds and operating rooms and suspending availability of some treatments for two to three weeks over the holidays to achieve severe government-imposed spending reductions. All emergency services will be provided, officials say, and extensive planning has been done to ensure that the ill do not suffer unduly.But the holiday shutdowns underscore how governmental budget problems are increasingly controlling the way Canadians receive health care.

Canada has been held up as a model for efforts to reform the U.S. health sector because the Canadian system covers all illnesses and all citizens. But that care is paid for with taxpayer dollars, and they are running short in Canada these days.

"This is not about health care. This is about the deficit," said Theodore J. Freedman, president of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

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As one example of treatments that will be affected at Mount Sinai, orthopedic surgeon Robert S. Bell said three of his bone-cancer patients are being sent elsewhere for two weeks during the holidays, then will be brought back in January for reconstructive surgery that otherwise would have occurred earlier.

The delay will not reduce the patients' life span, he said, but it will extend the duration of their pain.

"Their discomfort level has been increased by two weeks. If you said to an American patient, we're going to delay your surgery for two weeks because costs are involved, they'd never accept it," said Bell, who practiced medicine for two years in Boston. "They'd say, I'm paying for this, I'll take my business elsewhere."

But Ontario residents have no choice but to accept the closures.

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