Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Care Stories: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dan shares his experiences of having a heart attack in Toronto. His tale is sure to give American opponents of health care reform palpitations. But what does he care? He would just tell them...

I'm Still Here

At two in the morning some five years ago, I had chest pain and a good friend took me in a cab to the local emergency room at the Toronto General Hospital. I was taken in immediately and tested. The results confirmed I was having a heart attack. I was heavily medicated, then transferred upstairs to the CCU, the coronary care unit.

A nurse was stationed right beside me for the night and at 7 that morning I was taken to the operating room to have an angioplasty. During the procedure a stent was put in place.

I was returned to CCU, where a nurse applied weights on the groin entry point and constantly monitored my condition. After one more day of round-the-clock care, I was transferred upstairs to a bed in a room with three other gentlemen. I was kept two days, then released. I left the hospital having spent ZERO dollars, not even for the telephone in my room. I was fed, but certainly can't tell you what I ate. Okay, it's not perfect.

I was enrolled in a heart health program where I attended a dietary meeting--one-on-one with a dietitian--and a fitness program. I had to go to exercise classes three times a week, under medical supervision. It lasted three months. It cost me nothing extra.

A couple months later, still not feeling great, I requested and got a further cardiologist appointment. I told the doctor something was still wrong, that I have not recovered as I should. The doctor examined me further and came to the conclusion I indeed still had a problem. He arranged another angioplasty to insert two more stents which was done within a week of the original appointment. Again, I found myself in the coronary care unit immediately after surgery, again with a nurse stationed right beside me. I was released 18 hours later. "No charge."

It's been five years, and I am under doctor's care, and on heart and blood pressure meds. I see a cardiologist once a year and go through all kinds of tests and that report is sent on to my doctor. I pay nothing, ever, for these visits.

Let's talk about medications. I enrolled in the Trillium program a few months ago. This program is a provincial drug program that, based on income, involves paying a quarterly premium for my prescription drugs. I originally paid $115.00 per quarter (every three months) for drugs (Lipitor, altace-ramapril, metropolol) that used to cost me more than triple that. Note that any prescription written, for antibiotics or whatever, would have been filled at no extra cost to me. Anything. Prescribed.

Our health premiums and our Trillium program are determined by annual income tax forms we fill out. Last year, my income went up, and as a result, my drug costs through Trillium have roughly doubled. I am still happy to pay the now $200.00 per quarter, which is still far, far less than retail.

I take offense when some American right wingers call this socialism, because believe me, even most conservative-types in Canada know not to touch our Health Care Programs. To us, it's important to have our health care so that no one will go bankrupt trying to pay medical bills. We believe it's a right, not a privilege. We are angered when we here sad tales of medical woes, and governments often respond by covering extreme cases. Cost be damned. Again, it's not perfect. Some do suffer. But trust me, nothing on the scale Americans do.

When you lose your job, medical bills are not a major concern. You may lose your dental, your semi-private hospital coverage, but if you need an emergency operation, you will get it. That is peace of mind. Don't you think?

So, there you go. I am well-cared for under our system. I have no complaints. I look at our American cousins with a sense of sadness. In Canada, in the 1930s, rural doctors were paid by farmers with chickens or bushels of potatoes. People lost farms, went bankrupt. We eventually got rid of that system. Today, medical bankruptcies are comparatively rare in Canada as a result.

Note, too, that I have never been contacted by any government official, except to be mailed forms I had to fill out and send in to qualify for the Trillium drug program. Rest assured, the thought of a government official interfering in medical treatment is anathema to us collectively. In fact, some years ago, Shelley Martel, a Minister of Health, caused a scandal in the province over having discussed the details of one case at a cocktail party. Loose lips sank ships. We don't tolerate political interference in our personal health care decisions. Period.

We Canadians lay no claim on perfection, least of all our current health system. Sometimes it involves wait times for minor surgeries (hip replacements, etc.), and some patients experience huge costs for drugs if they are not covered by insurance. By and large, all are well-served.

There are many companies offering extra coverage (semi-private and private rooms while in hospital, drug programs, dental programs) to allay these costs. Individuals through their company benefit programs work that out privately, and insurance companies make their profits on that sector of the market. So there is basic coverage for all and added benefits through extended private coverage to anyone who wants to pay for it.

Now, I gotta deal with the potential of diabetes. My blood sugar counts grow. It might kill me, but the cost won't. That's an evolving life story, I guess, but I'm still here, eh?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Paula said...

thanks for sharing and best wishes!

Mark Base said...

Makes me proud to have been born Canadian!

I'm an expat-Montrealer, who lived in London for twelve years (dual Canadian-British citizenship), and now live in Sweden (which has heavily-subsidised - almost free healthcare).

I really don't get what the Yanks are on about. It's a no-brainer. I'd hate to live somewhere where you have to worry about such a basic thing as health.