I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about the ways that I feel we are costing each other money. I discussed how people who did not practice good hand hygiene cost tax payers a lot of money by taking up hospital beds; this is the case in Canada, where we don't have to pay for healthcare out-of-pocket, but of course the individual cost of illness is much higher for an American.
I love when my readers give me post ideas.
Please do NOT use this post as a debate ground as to which is better! This is meant to be a glimpse into universal healthcare from a day-to-day, realistic perspective. I don't really care if you don't like the idea of it & you are an American. Sorry. Haha.
Anyway, lets start out with housekeeping things about having universal healthcare:
It's Not Free
I have to start out by saying that universal healthcare is not free. There's a funny misconception that universal healthcare is completely free for those who are lucky enough to have it.
As Canadians, we don't have to shell out thousands of dollars when we break a leg, but we do pay for our healthcare system, mostly when we file taxes every year.
While I can walk into a doctor, emergency room, or even maternity center to have a baby and not have to stop at a cash register or bankrupt my family because of it, we pay a heavy premium for having the amazing benefits of universal healthcare (and, just generally being lucky enough to live in Canada). Taxes in Canada are, in general, substantially higher than those in the States. It might not be as outright obvious; you may not pay less income tax than I do, however, it's pushed onto businesses, who push it onto consumers, in the form of much, much higher prices.
Gas, cheese, dairy, and pretty much every consumer good out there will prove this when price comparing between the two countries.
We also have a little thing called MSP. Medical Services Plan is a monthly bill that each adult Canadian (just kidding, I'm told it's just BC peeps) citizen must pay if they make over a certain amount of money each year.
MSP is like a tax; you pay either more or less depending on your income and abilities.
Most employers pay for MSP. I've never, ever had to pay it. The only time I would have had to, I didn't make enough money for the government to bug me about it.
The boy pays MSP and it's about $40/month.
What's Covered Under Universal Health Care?
Contrary to popular belief, we do still have to pay for some healthcare. Just not most.
Some things that aren't, for instance, covered under universal healthcare are ental work (unless it's an emergency and threatens your health. Ex: broken jaw), most prescriptions, eye exams/eye care (glasses, contacts, etc), chiropractic services, and some other non-urgent services.
For example, my boyfriend a couple of years ago knocked his two front teeth out. He needed a bone graft and a bridge, with a crown. He was in a lot of pain, and had to go to an emergency dentist, but we had to pay the $4,000 bill out of pocket.
What It's Like Having Universal Health Care
Here's a realistic scenario for you, if you are a visual/story person.
And this is completely hypothetical, it's not actually happening any time soon.
I find out I'm pregnant. I pee on a stick but that isn't reliable enough so I hop into my car, drive to the walk-in clinic where I wait for half an hour for a doctor to call me in to see me. He does a test, confirms my pregnancy, congratulates me, and refers me to an OBGYN (if I don't have one already). I thank him, and leave the clinic (without stopping at the front desk to pay).
I get back in my car, drive home, and tell my spouse. He is thrilled and we phone the OBGYN right away to make an appointment. We go to the OBGYN, who tells us all about the vitamins I should be taking, tells us how far along I am and discusses any risks (family risks, etc). We book a date for the first ultrasound and we leave, without stopping at the front desk to pay.
A few weeks rolls by, and we are ready for our first ultrasound appointment! We go to the appointment, and they do the ultrasound. Everything looks good; the baby is fine. The heartbeat is confirmed and the pregnancy is checked for viability. We are lucky enough to have a OBGYN that gives the ultrasound photos out for free, but some don't. We take those home, without stopping at the front desk to pay for the visit.
Repeat this process for our second ultrasound a couple of months later. We find out what gender we are having! We are congratulated again, and we leave without paying.
I'm 7 months pregnant and I am having complications and I go to the doctor, who tells me I shouldn't be at work and that I should go on a medical leave. The doctor writes me a note (for free) and I bring it into my workplace. I leave the doctors office without paying. The doctor gives me a prescription for medication. I stop at the pharmacy on my way back and pick up my prescription, which costs $40.
While I'm at home, at 8 months pregnant, I begin to have what I think are Braxton Hicks. My spouse brings me to the hospital in case they might be contractions. They turn out to be a false alarm, but because of my earlier complications I am kept at the hospital for observation and bed rest for 4 nights (5 days). I go home after being cleared to go home, with orders to stay on bed rest. We leave the hospital (without stopping at the front desk to pay).
Finally, 4 days before my due date, the baby decides to come. We go to the hospital, and in pain (of course), they give me an epidural. After hours of labor, we deliver the baby, (who is healthy!) and stay for two nights. We leave two days later, without stopping at the front desk to pay.
We take our new baby home without ever receiving a bill in the mail.
Are you with me? So, basically, it's just covered. If the baby gets sick in a few weeks, we take it to the doctor - covered. Medication? No. Not usually. If I needed a C-Section, it would still be covered. Pitocin in the hospital? Covered.
I'll admit that I'm not a complete expert when it comes to universal healthcare, but I have heard some silly things that people from countries without it have to say about it.
- I've heard people say that countries with universal healthcare can't afford the technology necessary to provide the services needed. Not true. We have some of the most cutting-edge technology in healthcare.
- The wait times in Canada can be way longer than the wait times for procedures in the States. True. Some services, like some surgeries, can take months - years, even - to get to the top of the wait list for. Urgent surgeries are always right away, but if it's not urgent or an emergency you may be waiting for awhile.
- I've heard some people's thoughts that quality is sacrificed with universal healthcare. Not true. In my research, I found that the quality of healthcare in the states vs. in Canada is comparable. I have even heard the quality is better in Canada because the health care workers aren't worried about the clinic's or hospital's bottom line.
- I've heard an argument that with universal healthcare, the doctors don't try to "up sell" or cash grab. This is not true. Canadian doctors may not up sell services, however, they can have the tendency to over-prescribe, as they are still paid a commission by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their products. It's probably just not as bad in Canada.
At the end of the day, as younger Canadians, we do have to pay higher taxes to take care of the senior or unhealthy Canadians that cost our system more. However, one day when we are in that boat, it will be paid for with us, as well. And, really, I've never been to a hospital, seen a sickly child, and thought about how stupid it was that I had to pay for his or her medical care in my taxes.
Questions? Arguments? Concerns?