I would like to debunk some myths about Canada as I think we have a reputation, specifically for being nice, using the word “eh” at the end of every sentence and the idea that we have “free” healthcare. These are all stereotypes and don’t have much of a factual base. Sure, there are some people that end a sentence using the word “eh”, but not all of us. Canadians do apologize a lot for existing. Myself included, but we aren’t all nice. We have an air about us that comes across as being extra nice. When the reality is we don’t want the world to perceive us as not realizing how good we have it. Which brings me to the last myth: Canada is not a land of “free” healthcare. No, we don’t have to pay directly to go see our doctors, but we do have to pay for treatment options if we are sick.
I read an article from the Toronto Star over the weekend that epitomized this for me. The story for the woman in the article goes something like this: she has a mental health disability and needs medication. The cost of her medication is too expensive so she has to choose between feeding herself and treating her illness. Why does this happen? In Canada, you are able to go and see a doctor without having to pay a fee because it its covered by our Provincial Health Insurance Plans. However, if you need to have treatment outside of a hospital, such as medication, you have to pay for that out of your pocket. Canada has had this kind of system in place for many years. Many Ontarians have to pay a health care tax, making the system far from “free”. The trouble we find ourselves in is paying out of pocket for medication and even treatments like physiotherapy. Some employers offer benefits (insurance), but sometimes that’s not enough, and not everything is always covered. In the case of the Toronto Star article, the woman lost her job because of her disability and therefore no longer had health benefit coverage. If you have to choose between food and medicine, is that really a “free” health care system?
I know that this is a better system than many other countries have, but I don’t like the myth that Canada has a “free” health care system. Ideally, we would have a universal health care system which would allow some kind of treatment benefits in addition to doctor visits. In addition, it can take months to see a doctor as there is a shortage of physicians. Why? Because they are all paid the same rate, and in order to be competitive and make money, they often move to the United States where they will be compensated competitively. Many small rural towns and municipalities are without a doctor. In remote, northern communities, a doctor will visit a community once a week (or less) or utilize technologies like Skype in addition to a Nurse Practitioner. Does this sound like free health care?
Provincial health plans do cover some treatments for people who are on limited or fixed incomes – such as those using social services as a means for income, and seniors. For everyone else, the system does not cover: dental visits, eye doctor appointments, physiotherapy, medication, or sick days if you can’t go to work. If you have a job where these things are covered, you don’t need to worry. Unless you lose your job. There is no safety net. (Note – you still have to pay taxes on the benefits that you receive through your employer. The employer may cover the cost of the insurance plan itself, but you pay taxes on that benefit) The system isn’t perfect which is what I want people to know. But I also recognize that it could be worse. My true concern is for those people who really need treatment, but can’t afford it due to a job loss, or the fact that their employers don’t offer benefits. It’s hard to believe that such a socialist system could marginalize the most vulnerable populations.