Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Perspective On Canadian Health Care

I don't normally post things on my blog that have been written by other people, however, the following email was written by my cousin, who lives in both the US and Canada. So, I feel she has a perspective on the Canadian health care that would be, by my standards, a original source. She's seen it first hand. I think that no matter how you feel about universal health care and that even though the Canadian system is different than the changes being argued in congress, it is worth reading because there is a contingent within our country who still clings to the belief that the system works well there. I also think it's an important part of the discussion because, ultimately, our world is not a just place. As a Christian I am constantly striving for social justice, however, no system in the world outside of God's kingdom -- be it public or private -- is going to
to achieve that. If we naively believe one system can solve all our problems and preclude the need for the church to care for the health and well being of humanity, then we're simply finding our own way to abdicate our responsibility.
There is an awful lot of talk going around about the proposed health plan for this country. Several friends and relatives have sent me e-mails asking me about Canada's national health plan and how it functions. I have finally decided to just relate our experiences with their plan and let you all make your own decisions about whether you think we can afford or even want a government run plan.

We live in a town of 16,000 people. We have four general practitioners, one ob-gyn, and one general surgeon. There is a massive waiting list for those people who wish to have a private doctor. Meanwhile, those who do not have a doctor go to the emergency room. This includes all of the poor and minorities and much of the middle class population of the town. There simply are not enough doctors. They are coming to the US to practice. If a person in our town needs an MRI, there is a 6 month wait, and they must travel 2 1/2 hours to Winnipeg to get it. There is a 10 yr. wait for hip and knee replacements there, a 6 month wait for biopsies after positive mammograms. Colonoscopies are used as a last resort, and mammograms are only done every two years. When a new doctor comes to town, people are called and assigned an appointment time to be "interviewed" by the new doctor. Basically, the docs pic and choose whom they want to bother with. Old, preexisting condition? Forget it. Poor? Forget it. If you cannot keep the appointment, you lose your chance until the next time around. Remember, it was assigned.

There is an 18 month wait in our town for carpal tunnel syndrome surgery. It is done the old fashioned way. If you want the new surgery, as we have in the US, you must wait up to three years to have it done in Winnipeg. In short, elective surgery (even when you are in extreme pain) is wait, wait, wait.

Now, you say, is it this way all over Canada? No. Our province and Manitoba do not permit private health insurance. Many of the others do. Therefore, people in those provinces who can afford private, often come to the US for treatment. Also, there are more doctors who accept private insurance in those provinces. Are the poor and disenfranchised treated any better there? Our understanding is that they are not. In large cities, such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, the care is better and much of it is state of the art. Great, if you live there.

Is treatment paid for? Some. A lot is not, though - eyes, ears, and teeth are another story. Do they pay high taxes? You bet! In Ontario, residents pay national income tax, provincial income tax, and 15% sales tax. That's to finance their "free" medical care.

I've painted a dreary picture of Canadian health care. I'm sorry. It's what we've seen for 19 years. It's dismal compared to what we have. The poor are still going to the ER, the wealthy are still going where the care is good. Nothing is different.

Our system is not perfect in this country, but it is still the best there is. It has some glitches that need to be fixed, but fixing them would be far better than allowing any plan run by our inefficient and costly government.

I welcome any dialogue about this essay, and know that my cousin reads my blog, so am sure she is willing to answer any questions as well.