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Oh Canada!

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Here's what DOESN'T happen in Canada.

canadian hospital
Paul Starke: I don't mean to get political, but recently I saw an ad on TV that suggested that an overhaul of the U.S. health care system (providing a public option) would make our system "more like Canada's," as if that were a tragic, horrifying thing. Some lady claiming to be Canadian talked about long waits for procedures, and hospitals "turning into the DMV," and implied that old people in Winnipeg routinely drop dead due to insufficient care. Wherever you stand on the health care reform debate, I'd like to share my experiences as someone who grew up in Canada, and hopefully shed some light on the topic.

I had two major operations on my legs by the time I was 7 years old. Completely paid for by our Canadian Medicare system. The hospitals were lovely, and we got to choose our own doctor. Aftercare, physical therapy, and everything else were all included.

My pediatrician until I was 12 was a very nice man named Dr. Gordon, who also performed the occasional house call in the event of an emergency. I don't recall ever waiting more than 10 minutes in a waiting room for an appointment, and every vaccine, medicine, and treatment was also completely paid for.

On a recent trip to Canada, I came down with what I thought was swine flu; I was able to see a physician on SATURDAY, and that visit was completely free.

Here's what DOESN'T happen in Canada. You know the feeling you get after you've been to the hospital, and then a few weeks later, your insurance company sends you a letter/bill? You know the feeling of dread you have before you open said letter, wondering to yourself: "Oh my god -- what if they rejected my claim?" -- that DOESN'T happen. Oh, and you know how here in America, your health insurance expires if you lose your job? Yeah, that DOESN'T happen in Canada either.

Look, this is how it was for me as a teen, and things may have changed in Canada since I left. Also, not every system is perfect, and I'm sure some Canadians may have some isolated bad stories, but I think for the most part, a majority of Canadians are happy with their coverage. You may disagree with the public option, but don't do it on the grounds that it would make our system more like Canada's, because trust me, that would be a welcome change.

The one bad thing I can say is this: on our Canadian Medicare cards, our ID number is comprised of the first three letters of our last name, plus the first letter of our first name. For example, my name is Paul Starke, and my card read "STAP 84734." Jane Smith would be "SMIJ," followed by a series of numbers. When I was growing up, I had a friend named Kimberly Fuchs. You can imagine the looks she got when she'd take out her Medicare card.

For parents, something to consider though is that Canada doesn't give 10 weeks for parental leave. It gives 35 weeks, divided by both parents, ON TOP of 15 weeks' maternity. So you could, in essence, have up to 50 weeks to spend with your child. Not too shabby, eh?



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35 comments so far | Post a comment now
Gail Cooke July 31, 2009, 3:39 PM

I’m Canadian and though, as was said, there are definitely a few kinks here and there, I THANK GOD every day that my country has an AWESOME Health Care System. While I haven’t had any major problems with my health I rest easy knowing that should something happen to me like an illness or injury, I won’t be callously turned away because I can’t pay. We do pay for the ambulance should one be required…but all things considered, it’s not going to break me (I think in the city I live in it’s around $300 or something like that). The US’s health care scares the life right out of me. I don’t have a great paying job and I lived in the US I’d have to forgoe medical care. As I said, our system isn’t perfect, but it is still AWESOME. Canada’s the BEST country in the world!

Anna July 31, 2009, 5:02 PM

There’s a lot to admire about the Canadian system, and it may indeed be superior to ours in many ways. But one thing I know is that both times my Canadian brother-in-law needed back surgery, he came to the US for the procedure because he was going to have to wait six months plus, and he was in serious pain. Is that trade-off worth having everyone in the country insured? Maybe — but it’s still a trade-off.

Lisa Harris July 31, 2009, 5:21 PM

Thank you so much for writing this article!! I got crazy angry when I saw that same commercial making it sound like having a healthcare system like Canada’s would be a bad thing!!

I have lived in Texas for the last 6 years after living my first 34 in Canada. My 3 children were born there. Never once did I have to worry about prenatal care, I just went to the doctor. I never once had to worry about the bill in the mail for the blood work when I was pre-eclampsic with my 1st child.
I never had to worry about what I would do financially when my 2nd child was born 5 weeks early and had to spend his first 8 days in the NICU in a children’s hospital. Or when, because of his being born premature he had to have ear surgery when he was 2.

What about when my 3rd child had a fever of 102F when he was 2 weeks old and had to spend a week in the children’s hospital having a multitude of tests run on him?


During all of these things all I had to worry about was my children and their health, not the added worry of the financial burden it would have placed on my family.

I think it’s a shame that people can’t see that preventative healthcare (regular checkups etc) is much more cost effective than emergency treatment.

Oh, and as far as spending hours in the emergency room, I never spent waited more than 20 minutes, and then complained about that.
It’s true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

The US is supposed to be the best country in the world but it sure could take a lesson from Canada and their wonderful healthcare system!

Kristen August 1, 2009, 11:17 AM

I loved this article. I am not from Canada but I am a part of a social medical system here in america, it’s called Tricare and it’s part of the military health care system. Our entire family has NEVER had to worry once about how we will afford medical care. We have 2 children with medical issues(one with autism and the other with ashtma/food allergies) and we have never had to pay for anything. I wish the rest of america had the peace of mind we do. I hope one day they will.

Uly August 1, 2009, 4:18 PM

“But one thing I know is that both times my Canadian brother-in-law needed back surgery, he came to the US for the procedure because he was going to have to wait six months plus, and he was in serious pain. Is that trade-off worth having everyone in the country insured?”

As compared to the US, where some people wait six months - or twelve months, or thirty six months, or forever - for surgery because they cannot AFFORD surgery.

Gail Cooke August 1, 2009, 5:48 PM

I’d rather wait 6 months than die because the hospital won’t take me because I don’t have enough money to pay them….

Anonymous August 1, 2009, 7:35 PM

Can anyone from Canada please tell me how your country handles illegal immigants? Do they also get free health care? This question is not a judging question but a curious question.

Monica August 1, 2009, 9:48 PM

When I first heard about the health care in Canada I thought, I want to move to Canada. Now that I hear your experience. I want to move to Canada. I think the reason why no one wants a public option is because American are just selfish people. They are worried more about their own selves as to what they will or won’t get instead of the bigger picture. Yeah, you might because to afford expensive health insurance but think about your children, grandchildren 10 15 years from now when the cost of living is sky higher than it is now and they can’t afford to buy their own health insurance. A public option would be better than nothing at all. I live that reality right now. I wish I was a Canadian citizen right now. I don’t have many healthcare issue but just to be able to know that I can get care when I need it if I need it would be great.

Ashleigh August 2, 2009, 4:50 PM

Anonymous - you have to be a Canadian citizen for the free health care. If you’re visiting from somewhere else, or are here illegally, you’re not getting anything free. We pay more taxes to pay for our healthcare system, but it’s worth it for all of us!!

Thanks for the article, Paul!

chris August 3, 2009, 9:13 AM

I don’t think that it’s selfish to not want a public option. I think a lot of Americans are tired of paying so much because of the crazy lawsuits and because we have to pay more to cover the 10 million illegal immigants (which is not fair because not only do they get “free health care” but they also don’t pay any federal income taxes like the rest of us) If the government could come up with a plan like canada that won’t cover anyone who is not an american citizen and do tort reform, then I think more americans would be willing to consider this. I problem with our health care being run by the government is the fact that they can’t run any other program successfully. Medicare, medicad, Social Sercurity and even now the “cash for clunkers” programs are all a mess.

Meg August 3, 2009, 12:55 PM

1) Have you ever visited a nursing home in Canada? How about in the US? I was stunned at how clean (no funny smells), social and kind the center in Canada was. Something similar in the US would cost so much only the elite could afford it. And 2) everyone else in America much have different health care than I do because I cannot get an appt for my daughter for three months (and 3 of the 5 practices I called are not taking new patients); I wait in the exam room for an hour, even though I am the first appt of the day because the doctors are hanging out with pharma reps; and for the measly 10 minutes with the doc, I spend 3-5 times the time on the phone with the insurance company working out problems with the billing.

Mrs Embers August 4, 2009, 9:52 AM

I’m so thankful I was born in and still live in Canada! My aunt, a former citizen of Canada, now lives in the US, and she can’t afford medical insurance, in spite of the fact that she works 2 jobs, one full-time. She certainly misses Canada (for that among many other resons)!

I hate hearing people sound horrified at the thought of having a system like Canada’s. Are there things that could be improved on here? Of course there are, as there are anywhere. Given a choice, though, there’s no way I’d take the US system over ours, even if I could afford insurance. The thought of other people going without health care in a wealthy country makes me sick.

Abbey August 4, 2009, 1:32 PM

I am an American living in Canada and had the same trepidations (okay, maybe less irrational) regarding Canadian health care. I first must say that it is not perfect and people complain about it; however, everyone has health care and it cannot be taken away. Everything that I have had done (simple things & doctor visits, etc.) has been quick and almost completely paid for by the government (prescriptions are $3.28). I have never had a copay at a drs. office. my friend just had her gallbladder taken out with no fees and didn’t really wait very long. so, yeah, if you don’t have a life-threatening reason for needing surgery it might take awhile, but for everyday situations I have no complaints. Also, Canadian health insurance usually covers costs (within reason) if you decide to get a medical procedure done in the states. There is a shortage of family doctors and surgeons up here, so that is an issue. I agree with Mrs Embers - health insurance shouldn’t be a privilege of the wealthy, but a right and a responsibility of us all to demand that right for everyone.

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