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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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