Monday, May 28, 2007

Thank You For Waiting

Americans think health care in Canada is free. Some fear that. Some embrace that. But either way, that's what they think.

The truth is health care is not free. You pay a premium and you get health care. If you don't make enough money to pay the premium, you still get health care. But it's not free.

Your taxes pay for health care. You pay federal taxes, the Federal Government transfers some money to the Province, the Province allocates money to health care administrative agencies, and it goes on from there.

Whether you are rich or poor, when you need health care, you get in line for it. It takes some getting used to.

It's against the law to operate private clinics for most things. The lines are getting longer. The government has become more adept at measuring "wait times" so that it might look like the lines are getting shorter. But they're not.

Last week I went to the eye doctor for a routine exam. (This is NOT covered by the BC health care plan, nor do I have supplemental insurance that covers it. So it's paid for by me. But as I told the person in charge of collecting the money, "I'm an American. I'm used to this.")

The exam went fine. It was a very thorough exam. There are no problems with my eyes except that I need glasses. I've needed glasses since I was three, so no surprises there.

However, I have a small skin tag under my left eye. This is not life-threatening, and I don't even think it's especially gross, but it's annoying in the cold weather, and I curl in the winter so I'm very cold for several hours at a time.

"Can we have someone look at this and see if it makes sense to remove it?" I asked my doctor. "I realize it's really minor, but if there's a list, I would like to get on it."

"No worries," she said. "I just have to write a letter referring you to the cosmetic guy since this involves your eyelid. You should get a phone call from his office in about two years, and then they'll make an appointment for a few months after that. If he thinks it makes sense to go ahead and you want to do that, his office will get you on the waiting list for surgery."

Thank you for waiting!You can check the Ministry of Health website to see what the wait time will be. The health care administrative agency and the Provincial government only measure "wait time" for surgeries from when the specialist puts you on the surgery list. The proceeding two and a half years doesn't count against wait time.

So. I'm waiting for a phone call in two years for an appointment in five or six months after that. Then if it makes sense I'll go on a waiting list for surgery.

I feel like a real Canadian now.


Richard Niemeier said...

Cate, do you feel it is true that Doctors are paid better in the United States and that has caused a drain of exceptional talent in the medical field for Canadians?

Also, what about the Candian dollar and US dollar almost 1 for 1.

catester said...

There is no question that doctors in the United States make more money than doctors in Canada. I'm not sure that's the cause of the brain drain. The whole concept of health care is different here, and the many doctors, and especially nurses, who stay here don't regret making less money than their counterparts in "The States." People here believe in the system here, so they stay and try to improve it. A certain percentage of people in all fields (including IT) will go where the money is better. What's the "cause" of that? Maybe it's the money; maybe it's the person's attitude about money. There's plenty of exceptional talent here in Canada; it's just that Canadians have trouble recognizing and celebrating success. ;-)

I hope the two currencies reach parity. I still do some things with American dollars!

Barbra said...

I just loved the screen shot for "wait time"
Geek humor.
Brilliant Cate!

So is it fair to say that all of the Amreicans "in the states" should stop complaining about our system and perhaps try to not embrace "a free health care" system?

From your experience, that shed a bright light-- TY
I believe we are just fine in the US the way things are. Have your employer cover most of the unbearable cost via insurace and pay the deductable and get seen in a few weeks.

catester said...

Thanks, Barbra.

It will be interesting to see what people do after seeing "Sicko" by Michael Moore. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I've seen some of his promotional interviews, and he didn't mention the long wait times in Canada alongside the good things about the system here.

But leaving that aside --- there are plenty of other countries with health care systems that work. People don't have to choose between a Canadian system and an American system. Look at (gasp!) France for an interesting system that seems to work well for most.

ErinOrtlund said...

We don't pay a premium in Saskatchewan, but I've heard they do in BC, like you said. I do think it's weird that basic healthcare does not cover ambulance rides--you use extra insurance or pay out of pocket.

catester said...

Thanks for that, Erin. I've never figured out how the ambulance system works here in BC, and I'm actually kind of hoping not to have to!

And it's kind of fitting that if anywhere in Canada people are not paying health care premiums, it would be Saskatchewan!