The View From Your Sickbed (Canadian Edition)

A reader writes:

I am a Canadian citizen, moving to the US for work next month and your Sickbed Stories have pretty much got me terrified. I read every one of them and think…that probably wouldn’t happen in Canada. I am told that the organization that will provide our health insurance in the US has some of the best coverage in the country – but as your personal stories prove – there are just too many cracks in your system with too many people falling through them. Why not me one day?

Our health care is delivered provincially and so I can only speak for British Columbia but I know the systems are similar across Canada. Basically, each person pays $54 per month for all essential medical services; you pay nothing if you make less than $20,000 a year.

If you have a good health insurance plan through work, it will usually pay your monthly premium and cover you for additional services like eye care, physiotherapy, and psychiatry with annual limits on coverage (e.g. acupuncture treatments up to $600 per year) and subsidized costs on prescription drugs depending on the plan. There may be a small deductible for those “extras”, but you know beforehand what will be covered and what will not.

For that monthly $54 (and with no additional insurance), I have access to a family doctor whenever I need one, to walk-in clinics where doctors treat individuals on a first-come, first-served basis, and to emergency or standard medical care in hospital. And whether it is a quick diagnosis and prescribed antibiotics for an infected spider bite (me) or radical chemotherapy treatment, months of hospitalization and surgery for life threatening cancer (one of my closest friends) – there are no bills for that care.

You simply present your Care Card where you are receiving treatment identifying you as a resident of the province, and you are entitled to whatever care you need as determined by your doctor – not “the government” and not any insurance company. Of course, this care is not “free”. As Canadian citizens, we all pay for this incredible privilege of universal health care through our taxes, which are slightly higher than in the US. But I think about those MasterCard commercials from a few years back – "Piece of mind knowing that you and your family will never be financially ruined by health care bills? Priceless." There was a long, hard political fight for universal health care in Canada. Man, was it worth it.