Is Canadian Healthcare the Answer?

August 12, 2017

Healthcare in the U.S. is a mess, and it’s likely due simply to politicians and the almighty buck. The insurance companies need to make more and more, and the politicians need to protect their crony lobbyists. We made so much progress 7 years ago under the Affordable Care Act, and it’s depressing to see Republicans try to dismantle the little bit of reform we’ve had. Where did we go wrong? 

For some reason, the idea of “socialism” or “single payer” healthcare in this country send shivers up the spines of Republicans and I will never understand it. Last October, Donald Trump said (after praising the system in the past): “[Clinton] wants to go to a single payer plan which would be a disaster, somewhat similar to Canada.” Trump said during the debate in St. Louis. “And if you ever notice the Canadians, when they need a big operation, when something happens they come into the United State in many cases. Because their system is so slow it’s catastrophic in certain ways.” (Global News). A Google search of Republican/Conservative attitudes on Canadian healthcare brings up a slew of articles on the various evils of the system and many cautionary tales of woe. 

So, I decided to just ask some Canadians about their experiences. You see, I’m technically “half” Canadian, because my Dad (who is one of 9 siblings) was born and raised in Canada and immigrated to the U.S. in his early 20s. So, I’m an American, my Dad is an American, but I have spent a lifetime surrounded by a great number of Aunts and Uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, etc. from Canada.

Obviously, this isn’t scientific – I just asked my rather large online Facebook family of Canadian relations how they feel about their healthcare, how they use it, what it costs, etc. And, the results were fascinating. 

I heard from people in 4 different Canadian provinces. Every single one of them had something negative to say – not harsh – just maybe wait times are long, or “it isn’t perfect” and so forth. They then went on to describe the system and my only reponse to absolutely everything I read was “WOW – double WOW – you have it so good. How blessed you are!” I only had one “outlier” conversation, which detailed this person’s having to wait several years in terrible pain for an operation, as well as people personally known to this individual who have resorted to going to the U.S. so as not to have to wait for operations.

My notes from these many conversations, which include the good, the bad, and the ugly, from across the 4 provinces: 

  • When you need a doctor, you go see one. Everything is free – no kidding, no co-pays or anything and you never get a bill for anything after the fact. That includes X-Rays, prescriptions, MRIs, specialists, etc. 
  • All provinces in Canada provide free healthcare for their citizens, paid for by tax-payer funds. The only province that also requires a monthly bill to pay for it is British Columbia. I was told anywhere from $30/month for a single person to $150/month for a family of four. (To put that into perspective, my insurance at my very good union job is literally 3 times the highest amount quoted to me from my paycheck, for a family of 2.) 
  • Canadians complain about “high” taxes to help pay for this system. And, maybe they seem high…..but the truth is that my family pays more than 10% more than the highest rate I was quoted and we do NOT receive any healthcare from the government in return. 
  • Wait-times seem to vary based on where you live for specialists. Some people wait 3-14 months. (One person told me 3 years for a specialist surgery.) However, I had another cousin tell me that she shattered her hand and was in surgery for is 12 hours later. So, again – it seems to depend on severity of need, doctor availability, etc. (That isn’t any different than what we deal with in the U.S.) 
  • What really cracked me up was the complaints about the ER. Most of them have to wait 1-4 hours! (For comparison, I’ve never in my life been admitted to an ER in anything under 3 hours. If I have to go myself or take someone in, I know to bring a really big book with me.) And, I shouldn’t complain about it either. I watched a documentary last year about a “public” hospital in Los Angeles (that means for poor people who mostly don’t have insurance) where people regularly wait for THREE DAYS or more to be seen by a doctor in the ER! 
  • Dental, optometry, chiropractic, etc. is not covered but can be purchased by individuals or included as a company benefit. (Many of my relations have these things covered by their employers, so that’s free too!) 
  • ERs are triaged, just like in the U.S. So, it isn’t “first come first serve” but rather “worst case” first. 
  • There are complaints about a lack of doctors in Canada. Sadly, we have that same problem in the U.S. I’m not sure what can be done about it. Training to become a doctor is wildly expensive and time-consuming. It is what it is. 
  • I had one complaint about increased costs due to personal behavior. We have the same problem here with our HMO systems in the U.S. People don’t want to pay for a new liver for a lifetime drunk, or lung treatment for a heavy smoker, reviving the addict continually in an ER, etc. That’s life. It’s part of what makes us humane – taking care of each other.
  • Rural service is reported as not as good, slower, etc. I’ve never lived anywhere but in or near big cities, so I can’t comment personally as to how the U.S. fares in this regard, but I’ve read often that we have the same problems here. 
  • Canadians choose their own doctors and they need to be referred for specialists. (Sounds just like our HMO system here in the U.S., except that it’s FREE.) 
  • Wait-times for specialists vary depending on the severity of the situation. So, if you need cancer treatment you will get in right away. If It’s something that isn’t as severe, you will need to wait longer. 
  • Mental health is covered – aka, free. 
  • I spoke with 2 people who have family members with serious medical problems – both indicated access to the best specialists, no problem.

So, to summarize – Canadians have it incredibly good and I hope and pray that Americans will take note and adopt a similar system. I can’t imagine a world where any of us can go to a doctor and get the care we need without paying anything. I have “excellent” insurance and I have to pay $20 to see a doctor, $100 for an ER visit, a portion of prescriptions, and a monthly bill out of the paycheck and that’s considered really great coverage! I’ve had times in my life when I didn’t have healthcare coverage and I lived in daily terror of getting sick. I’ve also been “covered” under several other HMO plans in the past, and been subjected to very long wait times to see a regular doctor, having to stay home in pain after an injury because “if it isn’t deemed an emergency, the HMO won’t pay for the bill,” having to “ask permission” before going to the ER for kidney stones, and having to travel 50 miles or more to see a specialist who accepts my insurance. 

In the U.S., all of us are just a layoff away from complete disaster. And, anyone living without coverage (which is just about anyone working at a small company, part-time retail, self-employed, etc.) sort of just has to make-do and hope for the best. That’s not okay. I would argue that it’s downright unChristian. 

I have been to several “fundraisers” for people with costly medical problems, both with and without insurance. Having to face losing your home, all your savings, etc. to save your life is not okay. It wouldn’t happen in Canada.

I am so happy that my Canadian family and friends are so blessed. We can learn a lot. I’d like to send the entire Republican Party Leadership up there to take a look – but only AFTER they visit the ERs in our country in places where lots of low-income people live. It probably won’t help because most Republican politicians lack morals and empathy, but one can dream. 

Thank you to my big Canadian family for helping with my research. You are so blessed, eh? 🙂 

It’s time to quit the nonsense, and commit to helping one another.

Philippians 2:4 (NRSV): Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Serve all with love.

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