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Friday, December 29, 2006

It has come to this

We got excited this morning. Steve found a doctor to be his GP. An actual doctor, who is actually willing to make appointments and help him with his physical health. Most importantly, the clinic is usually able to see patients within two days.

My American readers are blinking dumbly at this. My Canadian readers are wondering who this doctor is and how they can convince her to be their GP.

It is considered un-Canadian to suggest that our health care system is not the best in the world. After all, it is free.

I'll just let you think about that for a minute.



I have a good job. I am paid well. But I never look at my pay stub, because it sickens me to think about the money the federal government takes from me. I am up over $1000 in deductions every two weeks. Some of this goes to my pension or to my dental plan, which is OK. (Note that I am paying for this myself. This will be important later on.)

Last week, just for kicks, I pulled out my pay stub. The line I was interested in was TOTAL TAXES. About 90% of this was federal tax. The total was $23,282. Wait a second, I have to go throw up.

By the end of the year, I will probably have paid $25,000 in income taxes, give or take a few dollars. This is more than I used to earn in a year. It also doesn't include the taxes I pay to the city or the taxes the Co-op collects for the government when I buy groceries.

Federal taxes pay for many things. Universities, for example. Public broadcasting. Oh, and health care. I would like to know how much I am paying for these things. Anyone know where I can get a handy pie chart? Something that would tell me that, say, 23% of taxes go to support our health-care system?

Canadians like to compare their health-care system to the one in the States. They are always convinced that their way is better. The only reason I can think of for this is that they believe that Canadian health care is free. Excuse me while I laugh. This will be a short, bitter laugh.


People who insist so loudly that the Canadian way is better are usually not people who have ever experienced health care in another country. Don't get me wrong: I am not saying that the American way is perfect. But at least, once you've paid for health care (through your insurance or out of your pocket), you actually get health care. In Canada, once you've paid for health care (through your taxes), you get to languish on a waiting list for months while your condition worsens.

In 1997, my doctor knew that I had a neurological disorder. But he didn't know which one. The worst-case scenario was that it could have been brain cancer. I needed to see a neurologist. I was lucky; I lived in a southern Canadian city with first-rate specialists. Onto the waiting list I went. They said it would probably be a six-month wait.

My parents lived across the border in a small city, and they couldn't stand waiting. My dad called the local neurologist, and I had an appointment in two days. Diagnosis: Temporal-lobe epilepsy, not cancer. Cost to my father: $200 (I'm sure the insurer paid some money too).

Canadians often tell me that they are glad they don't have to pay $35 to get their kids' ear infections treated. I suppose that this is true, if you use the word "pay" to mean bringing your chequebook to the medical clinic.

It seems that your choices are:
US: Pay for health care when you need it and get health care.
Canada: Pay for health care when you get money or spend money, and don't get health care.

I'm sure that I will get some nasty responses to this post. I beg you, don't resort to violence. I don't have a doctor, and it takes two weeks to get an appointment at my clinic.

[UPDATED: My dad's response to this post has reminded me of something that may shock my Canadian readers.

When I was growing up in the States, we hardly had any money. We were definitely what Canadians would call "poor". Actually, Canadians have no sense of what it really means to be poor, but don't get me started on that.

I had appendicitis in 1986. My appendix burst. I almost died. My parents took me to the hospital, where I had surgery to remove my appendix and the poison that had spewed into my lower abdomen. I stayed in the hospital for several days. Yes, they let me in. And I had a private room - they did not keep me on a bed in the middle of the hallway, like I've seen in several Canadian hospitals.

My mom had two of her four kids in the hospital. Yes, they let her in, too.]


Anonymous said...

While living in Canada, I often heard people say, "Well, bad as this country is, at least we don't have the American health care system!" Living in the States, I now hear people say, "Well, bad as this country is, at least we don't have the Canadian health care system!"

Obviously the citizens of these two countries operate on two thirds propaganda, and one third reality.

I will never forget the day I was informed by an indignant Canadian cleric that "poor people in the US have no health care." Of course, I told her that this assertion was utterly false, but she insisted that I was mistaken, despite the fact that I had actually LIVED in the US! She knew, "for a fact" that poor people in the Great Satan were not allowed into hospitals.

The biggest benefit of Canadian health care is the righteous feeling it gives to the people of Canada.

And, by the way, the $200.00 was the complete cost of the neurologist. People claim he is one of the best in the country.


Anonymous said...

First, I would like you and your readers to know that I have had the privilege of living in 2 Provinces and 1 Territory over my 32 years of life. As a person with a chronic disease, I have seen many GPs, Endocrinologists (Endo), and ERs in both provinces and territory that I have lived.

I agree with you. I am really tired of the 'Government' taking $650 every 2 weeks off my pay, and for what? Me having to wait in long lines at the ER, or at my clinic? The more I look at my payroll slip the more pissed off I get! This year I have paid over $16000 in taxes through payroll deductions.

Any time I have needed medical advice it has ALWAYS been at-least 1 week... mostly 2 weeks before I could see my GP...and usually then it was with Dr. Quack (a locum)!

Now don't get me wrong, if I could see my GP within 2 days of calling the clinic, or better still seeing my endo within a week I would withdraw my comment.

I too would like to have a peek at what percentage of my taxes are sent to where.

Don't get me wrong...I am Canadian and am very happy to be a Canadian, but there is a problem.

The Silver Lining: I just got word that I may now have a GP who is reliable (doesn't move away every 2 years), good at what she does, and has many Diabetic patients. My friend's wife (who happens to know everything about every doc in town) says not only is this clinic great, but the doc is awesome. Yeah! I find out if the GP will take me by the 17th of Jan. Until then, I will be drafting my comment-withdrawal letter.


Cin said...

I respect your point. I really do. But ask some of the girls on my HG support site, women with insurance and jobs, about American health care, and they will seethe.

You see, the American system, they say, is fine if you have insurance or Medicaid, and a SHORT-TERM illness or emergency. If you have a lingering, nasty pregnancy disease, the American system is hell.

You see, insurance companies often find reasons to STOP paying for the health care these ladies paid for with their premiums. They will find lame reasons to stop paying for home IVs or expensive drugs (necessary when sick with HG.) They will up their co-pays. They will ignore the doctor's prescription, and tell a woman she can only have a half or a third of the drugs she needs paid by insurance.

The common drug to treat HG is called Zofran. One 8mg pill costs $20. The average woman with HG takes 5 a day. Yup, $100 a day, just so you and baby can drink fluids and eat the odd cracker.

And I know several women personally who got phone calls in the hospital suggesting they have an abortion because the pregnancy was expensive. Who called? Their insurance companies.

Many of the women on my website are so strapped by medical bills that they have no money for baby supplies at the end of the pregnancy.

I am not in that position. My health care during my pg was paid by my taxes and yours. Think of health care as a universal insurance policy, and your taxes as premiums.

As for wait times..... they suck. But let's use logic.... did universal health care cause them? Or did cutting back on the nurses and nursing schools, and on medical schools, in the late 80s and early 90s cause them?

For most people, universal health care is better than bankruptcy. That's what used to happen to poor Canadians before. It happened to one of my relatives in the 30s.

So I see your point. I would loved to have seen a perinatologist in 2 days. But I think you're building a straw man -- are we attacking wait times or universal health care? Because they are not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cin,
I appreciate your observations. In fact, overall, I actually prefer the Canadian approach. However, the moralistic propaganda that surrounds the Canadian system drives me crazy.
As a parish priest in Canada, I buried a lot of people who perished while waiting for a medical procedure to be scheduled.
Canada does not have universal health care. If people die while still waiting for a simple medical procedure, they are not receiving health care. A health care system like Canada's is not really "universal."

Kevin Holsapple

Nathan Holsapple said...

Sorry guys, but there's only one way to solve this: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST!!!

Cin said...

"However, the moralistic propaganda that surrounds the Canadian system drives me crazy."

You are right. Absolutely. You'd think health care is our national religion.

I also agree that health care is not universal if you die while waiting for treatment, or even waiting to be diagnosed. The diagnostic wait time crisis is something we don't talk about at all here.

(BTW, thank you so much for taking care of people's spiritual needs!)

Cin said...

Oh, and Nathan.... ask your mom how many cases of, say, croup or measles you were nursed through as a child. That might change your outlook on survival of the fittest. ;-) :-p

Clayton said...

Of course there is a two-tier health care system in this country. Do you think Cretien and Mulroney would've cut funding if THEY had to wait for a hip replacement while in office?

Pedal a bike too slow and it crashes. Underfund any program, and it chokes.

There's plenty of stupid people on both sides of the border who think their 'team' is the best for no other reason than they were born on that particular piece of 'magical dirt'. Their testimony is good for nothing but a brief laugh.