An expat in Vancouver first impressions: Medical care

This week marked an important milestone in our move to Vancouver: use of our newly minted medical benefits card.

Back in the U.S. we heard all the horror stories about Canada’s socialized medicine as broadcast far and wide in the U.S.  We heard about the shortages of medical staff and testing equipment, the rationalized lab tests, the lower standards of service that arise out of a system that is not held accountable by the threat of lawsuits as it is in the U.S.

We took it all with a grain of salt. Of course there are horror stories. There are everywhere, including in the U.S. There are studies that reveal such egregious medical malfunction that they’ve made national news. Bad service? Well in the U.S., more than once, I have waited in the office waiting room longer than 1.5 hours for my scheduled doctor’s visit. More often I’ve been under the impression that a doctor is taking a wild guess to treat what’s ailing me. Surgeries have been recommended,  which I’ve mostly ignored, and recovered anyway. If doctors bother to read the thick file containing my medical records, I remark on it as it happens so infrequently.  Then there’s the over-use of antibiotics and the tendency to prescribe dubious pharmaceuticals with terrible side effects, just to get me out of the office before my allotted 15 minutes are up.  And if one considers the high fees consumers pay because of the medical malpractice insurance burden,  it’s not a surprise that compliance with medical regimens is a challenge.

So there are gaps in the quality of service any where you look, probably even in France.

What is important to remember about Canada’s nationalized health insurance is that it has been at times oversold and at others unjustifiably denigrated in the U.S.

For example, people tend to think “universal” is synonymous with “free.”  Wrong.

Every one of the 10 provinces has a different cost structure covering medical visits, tests, surgeries, at home care, prescription drugs, medical equipment/prosthetics, ambulance etc.  In B.C., my husband and I pay about $100 each month for the both of us.  In the U.S. that would be about $1000.  Prescriptions are covered after a $2000 deductible; but prescriptions are much, much cheaper than in the U.S.  If you can afford a supplemental plan, or if your workplace provides the benefit, for about $80 a month then your prescriptions, dental, vision and alternative medical care are covered.

Besides the affordability, Canadian health insurance cannot be taken away because of a pre-existing condition.  No matter what is wrong with you, you are covered.

Indeed, I’ve read about medical staff shortages particularly in rural areas. I recall seeing similar reports in the U.S. But people warned me that it would take a long time to find a doctor taking new patients. All I can say is a doctor was recommended by a new friend and we got appointments with her right away.  Then there is the “they don’t do the necessary tests to save money” trope.  In our introductory visit, our doctor decided it had been long enough since our last physicals to have all the blood work done, so we took her referral to the lab next door, handed it in, and waited our turn.

Another benefit is the paperwork, i.e., lack of.  You pay your monthly bill and then off you go.  You do not have to open your wallet at the doctor’s office.

My point of view is that if you have appropriate expectations, you are generally satisfied. Canadians routinely poll as very satisfied with their health care, I think in part because their expectations are reasonable.  Health care is expensive. It seems like denial or wishful thinking to believe governments can provide quality health care at no cost to the consumer. However having government assume the role of ensuring there is health coverage for all, no matter how rich or poor, however reflects a civic spirit that I value deeply.  It goes to the heart of what is different between the US and Canadian societies.  It is a form of wealth distribution that helps equalize society and make it more democratic, and less individualistic.

I imagine that’s what lies at the heart of opposition in the U.S. to a national health care program. The program would probably radically alter Americans’ attitudes towards responsibility to the group,  and that Ayn Rand individualism the far right so loves might be rendered irrelevant.

About kmazz

I spend as much time as possible pursuing my interests in global culture, photography, arts and politics.
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