Monday, August 10, 2009

Health Care Stories: St. John, New Brunswick, Canada

Alex tells us about his own experiences with the Canadian health care system and gives America some words of advice in crafting their own reform.

The debate over health care reform in the United States has been in the mainstream media a lot lately, including many ads tearing apart our system here in Canada. I was recently asked by an American via Twitter if our system here in Canada was really as bad as the ads make it sound. I am not an expert on health care in either country, but I can at least speak about my opinions and experiences here in Canada.

Do I think we have a system run by government bureaucrats who keep us from getting care? No. Do we have our share of problems? Yes. First off, some of the claims I’ve heard about the Canadian system include the extremely long waiting times, the rejection of care, and the denial of care to the elderly. The first claim is possible the closest to reality I’ve experienced. The wait times for non-emergency surgery and elective procedures can be long. For example, last week my mother was having pains, and decided to make a doctor’s appointment. The nearest appointment she was given was three weeks away. I don’t know how long it would take in other parts of the country or in the US, but that is average in my town.

On the other hand, though, a regular doctor’s appointment is not considered an emergency. When my grandfather had a heart attack last year, he was rushed immediately to the hospital. He was then transferred into a newer and larger hospital the very next day to undergo open heart transplant surgery. He had, I believe, seven or eight major blockages in his heart. They had to remove several veins from his legs to put them in his chest. His surgery was completed within three days. He remained in the hospital for two and a half months because of complications. Now, my grandfather is 65, just to let you know, and doesn’t have a dime to his name. During his time in the hospital, he was given medication, three square meals a day, numerous blood transfusions, and countless man hours were spent on him.

So how much did my grandfather pay for his hospital say? Nothing. He had no bill. Now, there are exceptions that include income and need, but he didn’t pay a cent for what I believe was good hospital care. So for what I know, the second and third claim is false. No one is refused care, especially emergency care. There are some problems, though, that I don’t want to leave out. One is care after the emergency. In Canada, I find there is one problem. What if you’re not poor enough to get social assistance (welfare), but too poor to afford your own care? To be frank, you’re screwed. That is where I am at. I am not on welfare, so I don’t receive a health card, but I can’t afford medication. Now like I said, if suddenly an emergency happened to me, I would be taken care of free of charge. But what after I get out of the hospital? What if I need a prescription, say, for pain? The fee comes out of my pocket, unless, as I said, I am on welfare or receive senior benefits (old age benefits). I know several people who have this problem and can’t afford their prescriptions.

Another problem also exists. Even if you’re on welfare and receive free medication, the government only pays for certain generic medications. It’s almost like a reoccurring loop that is hard to break. If you try to get off welfare and work, you can’t afford medications. Also, in other cases, such as visits to the optometrist and dentist, only certain dental procedures or glasses are covered (available) unless you are going to pay for them yourselves. I find the worst part about the system is how confusing it is. But from what I hear, so is the American system now. Another note I’d also like to make is that President Obama doesn’t want to make the American health care system into the Canadian one; he wants to have a sort of hybrid system. The President wants to allow a mixture of public and private, and while I don’t know how well this would work out, it sounds like a good idea to me. This way you get the best of both worlds. Those who can afford it can purchase the care they want, but those who cannot have something to rely on in hard times, just in case they need it. But it’s your health system, I encourage you to do some research. Here in Canada, at one time we actually considered allowing some private services, but the bill stalled in Parliament. I will say that one thing that really bothers me about health care reform in the United States right now is some of the Republican responses. Some Republicans simply want to kill the bill, just to get back at the Democrats and the President. They don’t care about what it could do to people. These bills are all about life and death.


I just wanted to update this article because I just had another experience with our health care system here in Canada. Remember, I mentioned my mom was having bad chest pains; well, we had to rush her to the hospital. It was also her 43rd birthday. Not a good day for her. She was taken into the hospital quickly and examined by a very kind nurse. The nurse asked her many questions about what was wrong and took several containers of blood to be tested. The doctor then came in an examined her also. She also put her on oxygen to try to make her feel better, until the blood test results came back. They were back within an hour. They told my mom she was anemic. Her blood iron levels had half what it should. It was causing her chest to hurt because her heart was beating too much. They told her she would need a blood transfusion and would have to stay the night. She stayed the night and they gave her the blood that night. They also fed her and gave her some antibiotics. She ended up having several blood transfusions. She was then released the next day after they took another blood sample to make sure her blood was back to normal. The cost to her—nothing. She’s back home with no fee. I do have a problem, though, that you might not have noticed. Like I mentioned before, she had been to the doctor only days before; he did nothing for her but give her a pain pill. Her heart could have stopped at any moment, and he did nothing for her. She had actually been complaining for months, maybe years, that she thought her iron levels were low, explaining why she was also tired all the time, but her doctor just kind of ignored her. I don’t think this is nationwide here in Canada, though, I think it is simply her doctor. This doctor is known for not being very good, but that does bring up yet another problem. It is hell to find a new family doctor, or one at all. But that’s just us here in socialized Canada. Just remember, you’re making your own system, not importing Canada’s.

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

This was reprinted from Alex’s blog, The Gay Atheist. You can check out the original post here.


Alisande said...

Because I've been unable to get a family doctor, I've been medicating myself. When I had a doctor in British Columbia, she had tested me and discovered iron was low. So, I'm just guessing that's what the problem is now, and I'm taking iron supplements.

As far as the shortage of family doctors, I think if the health care system in the U.S. changed, it might level the playing field, and more Canadian doctors and nurses might stay in Canada and practice here.

Alex said...

I'm glad my article could help. If anyone else needs anything, feel free to contact me through my blog.