≡ Menu

Health care, Canadian-style

Unless you live under a rock, you’ll be at least vaguely aware that there is much debate these days (mostly heated, it seems) centred around health care reform in the U.S. I’ve been thinking… with increasing gratitude, I might add… of the health care on offer to me as a Canadian, and thought I’d take the time to write out some of my own reflections on the situation up here.

I can’t speak about the specifics in other provinces, but I can definitely talk about health care in British Columbia, the province in which I’ve lived for my whole life.

At this point in time (and for the past number of years), my husband and I pay a premium of $96 per month (total) to the Medical Services Plan of B.C. (MSP), which covers us as a family of two at our current level of income. If our income were to significantly reduce, however, we would be eligible for premium assistance (which is available to all British Columbians based on net income). Just for the sake of interest, the current adjusted net income thresholds are as follows:

$20,000 – 100 percent subsidy
$22,000 – 80 percent subsidy
$24,000 – 60 percent subsidy
$26,000 – 40 percent subsidy
$28,000 – 20 percent subsidy

(For complete details on MSP premiums and premium assistance, see this page on the MSP web site.)

MSP “insures medically required services provided by physicians and supplementary health care practitioners, laboratory services and diagnostic procedures,” which covers pretty well anything that could happen to us (e.g., illness, accident, etc.) or anything medical we might require (e.g., surgery, hospitalization, etc.), apart from prescriptions (though prescriptions are reimbursed after a deductible is reached under Fair Pharmacare).

As an aside… unfortunately, dental care isn’t covered as part of our provincial plan, and neither is vision care; however, most extended care plans (provided through employers) cover one or both to some extent. Extended plans differ from employer to employer based on who provides the insurance, options chosen, etc. In my case, our company’s plan (paid for completely by my employer for all full-time and qualifying part-time staff members) provides such things as 100% reimbursement for prescriptions, full dental care (including twice-yearly checkups/cleaning), annual eye exams, chiropractic treatments, massage, acupuncture, naturopath, psychologist, and so on. (Unfortunately, apart from the annual eye exam, vision care is NOT covered under our particular plan, so we’re on our own for glasses and/or contacts.)

Back to the provincial plan, though, as that’s what is available to every British Columbian regardless of employment or income level.

From a personal standpoint, I could go on and on about how my extended family has benefitted from our MSP coverage. At risk of sounding like a bunch of invalids (!), a few things come to mind right off the top of my head… treatments received for no charge beyond our regular monthly premiums:

  • Hip replacement surgery and hospitalization (two people).
  • Breast reduction surgery and hospitalization (two people).
  • Skin cancer removal (several occurrences).
  • Extensive treatment for multiple sclerosis over nearly thirty years.
  • Treatment after heart attacks.
  • Surgery and week-long hospitalization after infection.

We don’t receive any bills, ever, so I have no idea what any of the above would cost if we had to pay out-of-pocket, but I doubt any of it comes cheap.

We are free to choose any doctor in any part of the province, and have the peace of mind of knowing that we can see them any time, without having to worry about whether or not we can afford it. Phone the office, book an appointment, and show up – that’s all there is to it. No additional cost, no co-pay, nothing.

In my (relatively small) city we have two major hospitals and plenty of drop-in clinics. In the case of an emergency one is free to go to either hospital (of course, whichever is closest would be the smart thing to do!), or for problems that need less immediate attention a drop-in clinic is probably the better choice. In terms of scheduled procedures, what type of treatment you are having normally dictates which hospital treats you, as each of them specializes in different areas. Doctors can work in both facilities.

As I said earlier, I can’t offer any personal insight into coverage in other parts of my country, but I can write about the care a member of my extended family (now in her 30s) has received while living in a different Canadian province. She was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes very early on, and in addition to being hospitalized multiple times throughout her life, as an adult she has had two kidney transplants. All of her care has been covered by her provincial medical plan, and, harsh or not, it’s safe to say that she would be bankrupt and/or dead today if she had lived just a few miles south, over the border.

It drives me absolutely crazy when I read some of the lies floating around – in some cases, planted – about the Canadian health care system. And it breaks my heart when I hear the personal stories of my friends in the U.S. who have lost (or are at risk of losing) their insurance coverage, who have insurance but pay exorbitant premiums plus co-pays, or who have policies with such large deductibles that the only way the “coverage” is really of use is if something catastrophic happens. Nice.

My country’s health care coverage isn’t perfect by any stretch. I’m sure other countries (even other provinces within my country) have better systems. But let me tell you – it’s pretty darn good, and I become more and more grateful every day for what we have. Dear friends in the U.S., don’t believe the lies spread by people who have a vested interest in keeping things exactly the way they are. Listen to someone who knows what’s what because she, her family, and her friends live it, every day of their lives.

UPDATE: New post (part 2!) with a link to a great video well worth watching.

UPDATE: New post – “A personal example of Canadian health care”

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.