Since the various (mostly Democratic) Presidential candidates have been yammering on about the need for “universal health care” in our country, I thought it might be instructive to share with readers just how such a “universal” system works (or rather DOESN’T) work in another nearby country.
It’s called the Canadian Health System. And while so-called “universal health care” does have many positive aspects, my family’s personal experiences with such a “universal” system have shown that it is FAR from the “nirvana” people south of the border sometimes make it out to be.
First of all, the “free” Canadian Health System only covers basic health care. While it does cover routine doctor visits and so-called “emergency” care visits to a hospital or clinic, the number of doctors available in the system is strictly controlled (spelled “limited”). So, finding (or keeping) a family doctor is sometimes all but impossible. And, by law, there are no “private” doctors or clinics in Canada (except in Quebec…. plus, of course, for Members of Parliament)! And, if you are hospitalized for any length of time, having just government medical coverage means you’ll share a ward with several other people.
Most Americans might also be shocked to learn that prescription drugs are NOT covered in Canadian’s government-provided health care benefit unless you are age 65 or older! It is true that prescription drugs DO cost a bit less in the drugstores in Canada than in the United States. But, in order to get prescription drug coverage (and other such “extras” like a semi-private room in a hospital), most Canadians still must purchase expensive health insurance to “top up” their basic government coverage.
Also, since Canada’s universal medical system is funded largely from provincial and federal sales taxes, if you happen to be out of the country for more than 180 days at a stretch, you are assumed to not be contributing your “fair share” to the system. At that point, your eligibility for benefits is subject to cancellation until you once again establish residency in Canada. You then have to wait upwards of another three months in order to get back into the system. God help you (and/or your wallet) if you get sick during that time and need medical care!
What’s more, your Canadian health coverage is only good while you are in Canada. If you travel south of the border (or overseas) and need medical assistance while you are out of the Country, you must either purchase extremely expensive one-time “travel insurance” to cover these potential medical costs before you leave, or risk paying for that care (usually at the “non-insurance” (full) rate if it’s obtained in the USA) from out of your own pocket. And, if you take more than 5 prescriptions per day (and/or are over 80 years old), good luck in getting insurance that is anywhere near affordable. In most cases you can’t get it…at any price.
And while the general quality of medical care in Canada is excellent, GETTING IT in a timely fashion is something else again. In some provinces, the waiting time for a routine MRI can stretch upwards of six to eight months. My brother-in-law recently endured nearly a year of excruciating pain while waiting for major back surgery. And my wife’s grandson recently had to endure almost four months of intense pain caused by complications from waiting for a hernia operation. In the interim, he couldn’t work
Likewise, waiting times for non-life-threatening surgical procedures can be even longer.
A while ago, a good friend of mine in Canada met with his family doctor simply to set up an input appointment with an orthopedic surgeon for knee replacement surgery. That was in November of 2005. At that time, the first available input appointment with an orthopedic surgeon was for April…in 2007. Needless to say, he re-arranged an extended family vacation to make absolutely sure he was in town for THAT appointment! What’s more, as of today (January, 2008) he’s STILL WAITING for his knee operation to be performed.
Fortunately, my family and I are covered by US medical insurance on the US side of the border. However, my doctor here reports that fully one quarter of his patients are now Canadians coming across the border…and paying cash…. to get their medical care from him. That fact, alone, speaks volumes!
Now, granted, millions of people in the United States still don’t have health insurance. But, if you are truly ill and in need of urgent care, you won’t be turned away from a hospital emergency room in the USA simply because you can’t pay.
Unfortunately in Canada, even some people WITH both government and private supplementary health insurance are, quite literally, DYING while waiting for THEIR so-called “free” health care.