My first health care experience in Canada

My first health care experience in Canada August 27, 2008

After living in Canada for the past two years, I finally had my first experience personally seeing a doctor (not counting trips with my wife for ultrasounds). Some facts:

Type of condition:
I scheduled my appointment for a non-life threatening condition, the kind of condition for which Canadians supposedly have to wait a long time to get treatment.

How long I had to wait:
-10 minutes. My appointment was at 12:30pm and I was called in to see the doctor at 12:20pm.

Exam length:
5 minutes.

Prescription charge:
$0.60. Yes, sixty cents for a prescription that would cost probably $50 or more in the U.S. I was embarrassed to have to use my debit card for sixty cents.

I would never want to universalize my experience, but I do feel that my first encounter with Canadian health care (which was dy-no-mite) was worth sharing here. I need not cite examples of negative experiences of health care in the U.S.. We’ve heard the news reports, seen the Michael Moore films, and more importantly, we have all personally experienced being hit hard by corporate medicine’s greed.

Another health care system is possible.

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  • Employer-based health insurance certainly is an outdated relic (from WW II). It’d be nice for insurance to stick to the person. I’ve been with 3 different health insurances and have had nothing but good experiences. Prescriptions are $5 for most medications, co-pay for visits $10. Not exactly the end of the world. It can however add up if one needs non-generics. Canada’s got only a handful of people, without millions of people, illegal and otherwise who won’t and sometimes can’t pay for health insurance, thereby costing everyone else. And I guess they’re not as fat, which is probably one of the main reasons for the American situation. All you can eat…and then some.

    Is it possible to pay up for better than standard health care ? Eg, by adding private insurance ?

    How are taxes in Canada ? It seems that given how high American taxes are one gets very little in return. No freakin’ mandatory paid maternity leave, to name just one outrage.

  • I’ve been with 3 different health insurances and have had nothing but good experiences.

    This ain’t a jab, but since you’re self-employed I’m assuming you can thank your wife for your insurance. Otherwise you’d be SOL.

    Prescriptions are $5 for most medications, co-pay for visits $10. Not exactly the end of the world. It can however add up if one needs non-generics.

    Or if you need a procedure of some kind.

    And I guess they’re not as fat, which is probably one of the main reasons for the American situation.

    Yes, this is a notable difference.

    Is it possible to pay up for better than standard health care ? Eg, by adding private insurance ?

    Yes.

    How are taxes in Canada ? It seems that given how high American taxes are one gets very little in return.

    A bit higher but as you say the question is what people get in return. Americans get very expensive wars and war toys, Canadians get health care.

  • In general, splitting the difference between the European/Canadian and the American system in half might be a good idea. Euro countries tend to have absurd benefits and confiscation level taxation of upper-middle-class incomes. Heck, in France they went to the streets over the POSSIBILITY of being fired within the first years of employment. Heh. I see the advantages of both models, but think that both are too extreme – I see how badly they ‘milk’ my Dad and how genuinely lazy people coast on govt. money. One thing about the USA that’s great for me is the ease of starting a business. In Austria, it’d be sheer torture. Here, I went to the county and paid $30. Broadly speaking, the USA is great for enterprising people with ambition. One can rise higher and faster but also fall deeper. Everything’s got a trade-off.

    I certainly agree with you that the current model of health care is absurd, complicated and needlessly expensive. Over-the-top malpractice suits and subsequent skyhigh insurance rates don’t help matters. This country was set up by lawyers for lawyers 😛 Just look at Cheatin’ John Edwards.

    A main problem is keeping one’s doctor upon changing jobs. You have to start from scratch, have to get pre-existing conditions validated and so forth. Not to mention the anonymity that comes from that. I remember the family doctor visiting us at home in Vienna.

    i don’t see a fundamental problem with basic coverage for all that can be expanded based on one’s preferences/finances. As I’ve said, I’ve lived in both systems and would like to see a ‘third way’ (instead, it’s the ‘third rail’).

    Btw, I drove to Vancouver & back last month, gorgeous place. You should go if you haven’t been.

  • It’s true, being an add-on to a policy is much cheaper than having two separate insurances.

  • blackadderiv

    My ex-girlfriend was also a student at Toronto. I don’t know what sort of financial aid set up you have with the school, but students from the U.S. typically pay much higher tuition than Canadian citizens, some fraction of which goes to defray health care expenses. So it may very well be that your prescription did cost you a lot more than $.60 cents (it certainly cost someone a lot more than this).

  • I agree about employer provided Health Care. Why would you grant a corporation who’s sole goal for existing is to increase revenue while reducing costs as much as possible ultimate say over your health. I’d prefer an individually bought healthcare to that, even though I think its a bad system as well.

  • blackadderiv:

    The higher tuition costs for foreign students is due to the fact that university education in Canada is heavily supported by the government, out of the tax base. Foreign students are required to pay closer to the full cost of the program. I believe health insurance is a separate line item on the tuition bill

  • jpf

    I hate to pop your bubble but I have personally experienced free health care delivered by the U.S. Government courtesy of the U.S. Army. Fortunately, I was generally in good health for the three years I was in so I did not have any bad experiences but the times I did go in were less then stellar – lets just say they didn’t think good little soldiers needed anything to deaden pain when they did the little bit of cutting and carving that they did do.

    However, my wife’s experience was a total SNAFU (as we say in the Army). She was also an officer. We were trying to have a baby. She went in complaining of severe cramps. The Army doctor dismissed it as menstrual cramps. She asked for a pregnancy test they would only give her a urine based test because of cost and this showed a negative for pregnancy. Later in the day she returned when the cramps got worse she returned and demanded a blood based test to which they reluctantly agreed.
    That night when the cramping became unbearable we went to the local Naval hospital, fortunately there was a immigrant civilian Kenyan contract doctor on duty and based on the same information she gave the Army doctor the Kenyan doctor quickly suspected an ectopic pregnancy which was quickly confirmed by blood and ultrasound tests.

    The Punch Line: Three weeks later after surgery and recovery period she returned to duty at her office on her first day she got a phone call from the Army doctor to congratulate her on being pregnant.

    Her’s was not the only horror story that I heard of concerning military medical treatment. Military members received even worse treatment from government doctors than their civilian spouses and children since government doctors were immune from malpractice suits by service members.

    I find it remarkable that anyone would want to turn over our entire medical system to the same government that has provided us with substandard VA hospitals and military health care. . . .not to mention substandard education, transportation, welfare, etc. systems.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Canadians get university and college next to free too.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    And wonderful, clean, efficient, well-used and affordable public transportation in major urban areas…

  • The higher tuition costs for foreign students is due to the fact that university education in Canada is heavily supported by the government, out of the tax base. Foreign students are required to pay closer to the full cost of the program. I believe health insurance is a separate line item on the tuition bill

    Yes, blackadder, Janet is right. International students actually pay higher tuition in the U.S., too, if I’m not mistaken. International tuition in Canada is waaaayyyy cheaper than what I would pay in the States too. More and more U.S. parents are catching on that tuition is significantly cheaper in Canada. My health care fees (and my wife’s) are separate from my tuition.

    Of course someone paid for my prescription. The stuff ain’t free. The question is how it is paid for, and if it is just or not.

    Canadians get university and college next to free too.

    Yes.

  • jpf

    Free universities and colleges. Some times you get what you pay for. There are one or two Canadian universities of note I can think of but they are few and far between. But maybe that is just be me being an ugly American.

    Affordable clean and well used public transportation. That could be due to an number of cultural and social factors none of which are attributable to any action or inaction by the government.

  • Free universities and colleges. Some times you get what you pay for. There are one or two Canadian universities of note I can think of but they are few and far between. But maybe that is just be me being an ugly American.

    You ideologues crack me up. “You get cheap health care and education, so the school you go to must be shit.” Faced with bare facts, all you can pull off are insults. Ugly american is right.

    I don’t feel the need to defend my particular school, but c’mon, you can’t think of any Canadian schools “of note”? Perhaps that’s because their focus isn’t football, clown. Do you think Canada is just full of uneducated fools? They know more about the united states than most americans do.

  • jpf:

    The treatment you received at a military hospital was unacceptable. However, there is no comparison with that received in a typical Canadian hospital.

    The difference between US army provided health care and Canadian is fairly straightforward. Canadian doctors and labs are private businesses. They bill the insurer for services rendered. The insurer is the provincial government. Now, they have a fee schedule that is WAY below what US insurers pay, so docs offices tend to be somewhat shabbier up here than south of the border. But they don’t need to pay for office staff to deal with billing a bunch of insurance companies, collecting copays, etc. Hospitals are a bit of both…docs are independent businesses/contractors, hospital staff are employees of the hospital and hospitals are given a budget from the province.

    Bottom line….we don’t (in general) have “government doctors” or hospitals. Quite a different situation.

    Oh, and I don’t doubt that you can’t name a “Canadian university of note”. That’s pretty much par for the course when Americans think about their neighbour to the north. We’re past caring, and would prefer to keep our excellent system of higher education on the down-low.

  • Policraticus

    The University of Toronto is one of the most prestigious schools in North America. When you look at American universities “of note,” the most prestigious are private institutions. The University of California system is probably the most prestigious public system in the U.S., yet its top university (UC Berkeley) is ranked below 20 private universities by U.S. News and World Report.

  • david

    Canada doesn’t have to spend big on defense because of its proximity to the U.S. True or false?

  • Public transportation is for the plebs 😀 I eschew it.

    Neither system is per se superior, it all depends on what your priorities are. I do think it’s a bit difficult to compare a handful of Canadians to a huge super power. The same goes for Europe. Michael, you are quite the ugly anti-American. You could make a career of that in Europe, they love Americans who trash the US.

  • Janet – Right on!

    David – Both true and false. Maybe Janet can comment on it, as a Canadian. I think you are right in the sense that, as the biggest bully on the block, the u.s. certainly calls the shots throughout the world.

  • I do think it’s a bit difficult to compare a handful of Canadians to a huge super power.

    What does this mean?

    Michael, you are quite the ugly anti-American.

    Why thank you. I’ll pose for your camera any day. I do insist on keeping my clothes on though.

  • …. I’d tell you to go back to Russia, boy, but you’re already in Canada 😀

    Health care is much like immigration, everyone talks and nothing gets done. Ever. Or, as Lewis Black said

    The only thing worse than a Republican or a Democrat, is when these two pricks work together! Basically how it works in Congress is that a Republican stands up and says ‘Hey, I got a really bad idea’, and a Democrat stands up and says ‘And I can make it shittier.’

  • Please do, Michael, I don’t want to break a lens :o)

  • S.B.

    Canadians get university and college next to free too.

    Obviously that’s impossible. Someone has to pay for it via taxes. Unless tuition is free only to those with financial need, that system is inequitable to the core. Rich people are far more likely to go to college; and college-educated people are, in the future, likely to make more money than those who didn’t go to college. It’s fundamentally unfair that anyone should have to pay higher taxes to support someone else to go to college unless that person is in financial need.

  • “Canada doesn’t have to spend big on defense because of its proximity to the U.S. True or false?”

    My possibly naive and ill-informed sense (as a 40-something year old Canadian) is that we don’t spend big on defense because we don’t have a lot of enemies. We are involved mainly in peace-keeping and protection of our waters. We don’t go lookin’ for trouble, is what I’m saying. Our confederation took place on the principles of “Peace, order and good government.” and this could be considered to define our values as Canadians.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Janet,

    Please excuse my fellow uneducated Americans.

    From personal experience, I transferred as an undergraduate from a private, American Ivy League university, Penn, to a public Canadian one, Toronto, and the latter made the former seem like early high school.

  • This kind of attitude is what will hopefully sink Obama, too.

  • This kind of attitude is what will hopefully sink Obama, too.

    Gerald, if this is directed at Janet and her last comment about Canada, then please lay off or you’re out of here. Got me?

  • It’s fundamentally unfair that anyone should have to pay higher taxes to support someone else to go to college unless that person is in financial need.

    I suppose to a liberal like yourself it would seem unfair.

    I believe it is fundamentally unfair to charge $40,000 or more a year for tuition.

  • blackadderiv

    I believe it is fundamentally unfair to charge $40,000 or more a year for tuition.

    Why?

  • No, in reference to Mark’s
    Please excuse my fellow uneducated Americans.

  • ann

    Please remember that government run care is a disaster everywhere. Medicare is one example in the United States. HMO’s are the adopted child of government run care.

    There are too many uniformed, unconcerned people involved with YOUR health in these systems.

    We can have universal care, while keeping out the government and the majority of bureaucrats.

    How? Tax CREDITS, right off your tax bill for insurance and/or basic care. The only regulation would be that no underwriter could refuse coverage.This would allow people to choose the insurance right for their circumstances. It would keep all the disinterested out of your life.

    For Catholics, it would allow the smallest social unit capable to handle the issue , thus fulfilling the demand for subsidiarity.

    This was part of Edward’s proposal. It is also part of McCains. Unfortunately, Hillary and Barack want the government to have too much power.

  • So it may very well be that your prescription did cost you a lot more than $.60 cents (it certainly cost someone a lot more than this).

    Indeed it did, blackadderiv, but since Michael didn’t pay it, it wasn’t a problem for him.

    Canadians get university and college next to free too.

    No, Mark. Someone is paying it. But that isn’t a problem because it isn’t you.

    The old adage that: “As soon as the common man discovers that he can vote himself largess from the public treasury, democracy is doomed” is so true.

    In the United States, the top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of taxes. That means that the bottom 50% of taxpayers pay 3% of the taxes. The bottom 50% want more “free stuff” (read that paid by the top 50%) so they vote in Democrats who will stick it to the “rich guy” in the interest of fairness. The problem is they have to find the cut-off point of “rich” that will maximize their votes. That’s why Obama is floating trial balloons of $250,000, $150, 000 and see how the polling responds to find the “magic number.

    I don’t want anyone taxed to provide “services” that aren’t mandated in the Constitution. I want the federal Government to concentrate on those things that are Constitutional. The government should do three things. Allow us to keep what we earn, protect us from force or fraud and leave us alone. But that sort of attitude doesn’t allow you to be a Senator-for-life.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Tony,

    Do you picket federal highways?

  • S.B.

    I suppose to a liberal like yourself it would seem unfair.

    I believe it is fundamentally unfair to charge $40,000 or more a year for tuition.

    So if you disagree with me, then explain why poorer people — including people who never went to college or people who can’t send their kids to college — should pay taxes to support those same tuition payments so that richer people won’t have to pay anything out of pocket?

  • S.B. – I truly think your mind works backwards.

    I believe it is fundamentally unfair to charge $40,000 or more a year for tuition.

    Why?

    Education should not be only for those who can afford it?

  • As a Canadian, I believe and am incredibly proud of my country’s mandate for universal health care. At the same time, our system does have its own share of problems, just like any other. I’ve had my share of horror stories in Canada, worse one being the time I waited in the ER for 9 hours before having a dr look at me only to tell me they couldn’t do anything since I did not go to the hospital closest to my house, so they just gave me a single pill to dull the pain and told me to go to the other hospital. There are also instances on the local BC news where the hospitals have had to shut down even their ERs from receiving patients because they were so over-full. IMO I think part of the backlog problem is almost done on purpose, as our provincial gov’t in BC has been trying to set up our system similar to the US, where we have private health clinics (for those who can afford them of course) and public ones. BUT once they allowed private companies to start openning the private clinics, our federal government stepped in and told them what they were doing went against our constitution. Now, there are still private clinics BUT the clinics can’t charge more than the public ones and MUST accept our public health insurance. I have no problem with this as it helps further our access to decent health care.

    Lots of people were saying that Hilary Clinton’s proposed health mandate was “pure idealism”. I was quite surprised and shocked, as I thought the right to life, well-being went along with the pursuit of happiness and were all principles supported by the majority of Americans?

  • Re: Hilary, I’m referring to her proposed universal health care system. But what do I know about American politics! I’m just a Canadian 😀