General Question

RandomMrdan's avatar

Canadians, I heard your healthcare system is terrible, is that true?

Asked by RandomMrdan (7367 points ) February 19th, 2009

I am pretty sure your healthcare is free to all citizens in Canada, but heard you need to pay for healthcare that would be considered any good. Is there any truth to that? Can anyone shed some light on how the healthcare system works in Canada?

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22 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

You hear that propaganda from the AMA and the insurance industry. The Candian system works well. The US heathcare system is what sucks.

amanderveen's avatar

Well, our health care isn’t exactly free. People pay into it based on their income (if you don’t make much, then your fees are subsidized). Everyone has access to treatment. Like many other health care systems, it has its strengths and weaknesses. Right now, wait times is a major weakness. Basically, we don’t have enough medical professionals to properly support the system (or at least that’s my understanding of why wait times are what they are). People who have money can afford to go elsewhere (eg. the US) to pay for treatment if they don’t want to wait. There are ongoing debates about implementing a two tier health system here.

artificialard's avatar

It’s ‘free’ in the sense that you don’t pay at all for essential medical care. You can approach any doctor (provided they have the room) or ER and they will treat you with proper documentation. Some services (most notably prescription drugs, dental, and optical) aren’t covered.

While such a system sounds good,the publicly-funded nature of the program results in a less efficient system due to a lack of market forces that would motivate better efficiency, retain talented staff, and discourage misuse of resources. This translates into longer wait times for critical but not life-threatening surgeries, a lack of available medical staff (notably doctors), and slower adoption of increasingly-expensive new treatments.

Despite the criticism I think Canadians enjoy a fairly good standard of health, compared to what I understand of the states. Everyone is treated and life-saving treatment is never denied. One thing that people frequently overlook beyond the individual price of health care is that a healthier overall population (including the lower disadvantaged classes) benefits society as a whole.

I’m still frequently disturbed by stories I read of people having childbirth in their homes without care, cancer that goes untreated all because of a lack of health care for the poor in the states. This is considering the fact that a fraction of the bailout bill could easily offer excellent care for every single person in the US of A.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Asian or European models that are a semi-privatised, which is what I’d like to see Canada transition more towards. They offer excellent minimum standards of care for all essential medical services but private facilities offer more comfortable surroundings, lesser wait times, etc. Many Scandinavian countries use this model and boast some of the highest quality of life ratings in the world.

loser's avatar

Is it wrong to be wanting to move to Canada right now?

TaoSan's avatar

pack up, I’ll come with ya…

flameboi's avatar

I heard weather was terrible, but nothing about healthcare so far

dynamicduo's avatar

No, loser, there are apparently a good number of similar folk like you who want to come up here. And I have to admit, it’s a nice place, even when you’re taxed out your butt. We’d love to have you guys come up and live here, so long as you’re willing to follow our rules and respect everyone and their consensual business. That’s really a key up here.

As a born and raised Canadian, I can give you a decent answer here.

One, it’s “free” in quotes. It doesn’t explicitly cost us money, but we sure do pay for it. We pay for it by having a huge tax rate.

The quality of the service varies depending on what time you go, where you go, and what you go for. People are generally prioritized in order of when they arrived, but mostly based on their critical need, so if you go to the hospital for a dislocated shoulder and wait for a half hour (well not wait, you’ll be checked in, given an ID bracelet, and will be evaluated by a triage nurse and given anything [ice or pain meds] to help you while you wait), and a car accident victim comes in and passes out on the floor, that person will be attended to first before you even though it was technically your turn. This is one price paid with the system, and can be why wait times for simple non-threatening injuries are long. People who have such injuries though should not be going to the hospital but to a local clinic. This is another reason why wait times are very long – because it costs nothing to walk in to a hospital and be treated, sometimes people will come in for treatment when it is not needed or when a clinic would be better.

I’ve had a few experiences recently with the hospitals so I’ll summarize them here. Overall though, they have been great experiences with very little wait times and true professional care.
1. Two incidents of me lacerating my hand. I was taken to the hospital by a regular person in a car. It took about one hour to get processed, wait for the doctor (you wait in the general waiting room, then in another waiting room closer to the doctors, then you wait for a small bit in the private doctor room), have them do stitches and whatever else, and leave. A+ service, would do business with again. Cost I paid: zero. All it takes is showing your provincial health card, even if you are homeless, if you have that card you are allowed service.
2. My sister just came down with pneumonia. Mom took her to the hospital where they did X rays to confirm and gave her a prescription for the antibiotics. Cost paid: zero. The antibiotics cost money, but health care plans from work often absorb a lot of their cost.
3. I live right across from a hospital now, their walk-in clinic is actually the closest doctor to me now (and it’s open all the time, bonus). A few months ago my wrist started really hurting a lot, so I went in to get it checked out. This was 9am on a nice day, so the waiting time was pretty low. It took about 45 minutes for the entire process of checking in and waiting (this is a theme, eh), getting my wrist X-rayed, and having the doctor show me (on the computer screen too, no physical x-ray ever existed, it’s all digital) what was happening and how I could take steps to fix it. Cost paid: zero.

I have been lucky to not require serious treatment so I cannot accurately evaluate such matters (cancer treatment, broken bones, et cetera) personally. However, my aunt did go through a recent event which surprised me. She found out she had bladder cancer. It had done damage which would require removing the organ, but the cancer had not spread. Her entire treatment, from that first diagnosis all the way to the surgery and aftercare, took no more than a month. She put in effort though and found a hospital closer to her with lower wait times, so she went there and had the procedure done faster. So her experience was a great one and she’s healthy and happy, bladderless but alive and cancer-free.

The issue about paying for service is pretty much split here. I feel that if I have money and choose to spend it at a private hospital to bypass wait times, it not only benefits myself, but benefits those waiting at the public hospital as I am no longer in their queue. But Canada is known to be anti-free market and anti-competition in many aspects (hospital, Ottawa’s bus service, the two cable/internet monopolies, et cetera).

Generally speaking though, most of what you hear about our system is lies propagated by certain people and political parties so as to discourage America from adopting a social health care system. Personally, I find it outright raping how your health care system works. Comparing yours and ours, it seems ours values health over profit, whereas yours is the opposite.

If you would like to look into my province’s health care system more, here is the official website and here is a list of what services are covered under the plan.

Angel_D's avatar

I have to agree with @artificialard. It’s a great system until you need emergent care, then things tend to fall apart due to wait times. I do have to say that everytime I go to the vet’s office with my cat and pay the bill there I’m greatful for our health care system. It blows me away how much medical costs can be, I don’t set foot into the US without good insurance.

As for the weather, where I am it is quite cold, woke up to a -33 wind chill this morning. It could be worse though, seeing as Winnipeg is only 1.5 hours from the US border so North Dakota isn’t any different for weather. I’d still rather have 4 seasons than only wet or dry.

RandomMrdan's avatar

thanks guys, you’ve been very helpful.

TaoSan's avatar

I might top this off a bit, although with another country, Germany. The system is quite similar, and I won’t go into the mechanics of it. Basically, the minute you work, a certain percentage is taken out, taxes if you will although its called different, and whoops, you’re in the public healthcare system.

All that follows pretty much concurs with dynamicduo’s experience. These horror stories of all those socialist healthcare countries where you die in the admissions waiting room are perpetuated propaganda by the US healthcare complex. The services you receive in Germany’s public system beat those of shitty ripoff US HMOs any time of the day.

Physicians determine the treatment you need, not profit-oriented plan-administrators.

I think the only 1st world country where people actually die waiting for treatment is in the US. I mean common. The question if you end up in a good hospital is determined by the “wallet biopsy” in an ambulance. 5 Platinum credit cards and a good insurance card, you live. 1 debit card and Humperding Inc. HMO, you die.

One post earlier pretty much clearly showed what this gazillion Dollar industry has indoctrinated many Americans to believe, if there are no “market forces” at work, then it’ll be like you’re in the Eastern Bloc. Market forces meaning profit for shareholders of course.

artificialard's avatar

I’d like to see Canada’s model move closer to European one’s like Germany that have a minimum level of health care afforded to those that can’t afford it, but private components for those that can afford it so the public system isn’t under such a heavy and inefficient load.

“The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system.” from Wikipedia

Canada’s cold in some parts but a lot of the population in the urban centres is relatively temperate, similar to the northern US. Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa have a climate similar to New York/New Jersey while Vancouver is much like northern California…

Mtl_zack's avatar

The Canadian system is very hard to get into, but once you’re in, it’s amazing that’s what she said. There is a lot of bureaucratic processing, but if you know someone, it should be easier, FYI. There is currently a shortage of nurses because the baby boomers are all retiring. Back the, if you were a woman, you became a teacher or a nurse, and the people who stuck with nurse are all leaving or dying, etc…

augustlan's avatar

We in the US have a nursing shortage, too. Same reasons, I suppose.

amanderveen's avatar

@artificialard – I wouldn’t say that Vancouver is quite like northern California. Definitely like Seattle though – they aren’t really that far from each other.

artificialard's avatar

@amanderveen I’d defer to you as I’m a hardcore Torontonian east-Canadian. Suffice it to say though that much of the Canadian population lives in cities that have similar climates to their American analogues.

amanderveen's avatar

@artificialard – Absolutely. When I worked in tourist spots in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver area), it never ceased to amaze me just how many American tourists came through expecting to see igloos. You have to go pretty far north before Canada starts looking much different than the States. Then again, because it looks so similar, we also got a lot of tourists at the opposite end of the spectrum who basically thought they still were in the States and that American laws and currency overrode Canadian.

TaoSan's avatar


who basically thought they still were in the States and that American laws and currency overrode Canadian

Don’t feel bad, you find plenty of this kind as far away as Germany.

artificialard's avatar

@amanderveen I remember when I worked retail I always found it odd that some American customers would assume they could use the US dollar for payment and be exempt from taxes and be taken aback when they realised their laws didn’t follow them abroad…

amanderveen's avatar

@artificialard – I hear you there. I encountered the same thing on occasion. Oddly enough, the worst offenders were from only a hundred or so miles away. I would have thought there’d be more awareness with that kind of proximity, not less.

To be fair though, one of the most polite and well-spoken tourists I ever met was a teenaged track and field competitor from Liberty, Missouri. After he left, I thought I should have asked him if all the young men from Liberty were that polite. :o)

evil2's avatar

I live in alberta and i have to say the medical system is pretty awesome, i have had multiple surgeries with no cost , and i have my own doctor here, the belief that we are sorthanded medically is true but its getting better….the waits arent that bad but i would rather wait for non essential services than pay out the ass, as for taxes i would gladly pay more taxes for even more social programs….

Bizkuitss's avatar

Our National Health Service in the UK is paid for by the citizens of UK national insurance.

National Insurance is very small tax based on your income (i roughly pay about £5 a week), if you are unemployed and on benefits this is obviously lowered and paid for by your benefits. The NI “tax” is automatically taken from your wage on a weekly basis.

The NHS is not only paid for by our National Insurance Contributions but is also subsidied with the taxes implemented onto everyday items such as cigarettes and alcohol.

The NHS provides the same value of healthcare to every person in the UK, you do not need to be a citizen, you do not even need a healthcard or ID. Dental care and optical care is also free to a certain point, with dental and optical care you need to pay a small fee unless your are on benefits or are a child or elderely.

Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, whereas in England you do have to pay a fee of £7.50p, but that will cover all drugs on that prescription, whether it’s one or twenty different types and that fee (like dental and optical care) is only to those who can afford it.

Doctors and Nurses are trained to a high level by heavily subsidied University Degrees, but a doctor must stay with the NHS for a certain amount of years before moving on, if ever they do as a Doctor in the UK is by no means poor.

There is such a thing as private healthcare in the UK and yes perhaps the waiting time will shorter, especially for a bed, but you will still be waiting for a Doctor as all the specialists are NHS employed, thus having a duty of care to NHS patients.

I have never heard of anybody dying in a waiting room, this would never be allowed to happen in the UK but I have heard of some shocking stories of American citizens being unable to afford healthcare and simply being left in the street to die.

I and like every other socialist healthcare system country, will never fear about being unable to pay a bill for a prescription or emergency care, such as Cancer or Meningitis, and will know that myself and my family will always have the best of care available.

If you are an American who cannot afford a drastic healthcare bill, it may be cheaper to come to Britain for that cancer op, because the NHS will never turn anyone away.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I lived in Canada from 1978 to 1981, and had my second and third babies there. I also lived in South Africa from 1972 to 1977 and had my first baby there. Both had government health care, and both were wonderful. I got excellent care and didn’t pay one red cent for it. I had complications with my second baby, and wound up in hospital, flat on my back, twice through the pregnancy. I just have to say that both health care systems worked as slick as a whistle. I could always go to the doctor, or take the kids in, without money being an issue.

I have no idea how they fund it. I know that, in Canada, we were forced to have government car insurance, and they shafted you there. Also, the interest rate on mortgages was sky-high, and you could only get a mortgage for five years – then you had to re-qualfy and refinance to the new (usually higher) interest rate. I guess they get you one way or another, but their health care is good.

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