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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Canadian pundit on US health care

The National Post's columnist Don Martin wrote a story in Saturday's paper about former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein's failure to fix his province's health care system despite "13 years of dictator-sized government majorities backed by billions of surplus dollars and the most enterprise-minded voters in the country". Klein identified several obstacles to his attempts to open up the public system in Alberta to private enterprise, including this:
"We faced a hostile news media who loved nothing more than to promote a good fight," he said. "I have often said that political reporters are actually fight promoters and nowhere is that more true than in health care."
Martin, by way of commenting on the perils of private involvement in Canada's public health care system, recalled an incident during a trip to the US:
At the risk of sounding like a fight promoter, I witnessed the harsh consequences of all-private care when one of my children was admitted to a Pittsburgh hospital for life-saving surgery. It may be the best care in the world, but it's also red-taped Mastercard medicare where superior treatment goes to those with the most money and those without insurance sacrifice their savings to pay horrendous hospital bills. Never have I appreciated having a Canadian health insurance coverage more.
I have a few questions for Don Martin, and other Canadians who nod their heads in agreement and tut-tut about the Dickensian system south of the border. First - why were you in the US without arranging for health insurance to cover you during your visit, and why would you expect an American hospital to treat you for free if you are not a resident of the US, or a taxpayer in that country? I travel frequently in the US and every time I do so I purchase private medical insurance to cover unexpected bills while I'm there.

Secondly - where do you think Canadian residents with lots of money go to jump the queue for life-saving surgery? You got it - places like Pittsburgh.

Thirdly - visitors to Canada don't get free government-provided health care from our world-famous system while they're in our country. State-run health care is provided free of charge ONLY to Canadian residents. A tourist from Pittsburgh who required life-saving surgery while in Toronto would also run up "horrendous hospital bills" if they hadn't taken the trouble to arrange for private insurance while on their trip. A few years ago an American teacher lived in my neighbourhood while she was on a year-long exchange at a local school. She naively assumed that she would be able to access our "free health care" while she was here and didn't bother to arrange private insurance. When she got sick here and required a doctor's care, she was shocked to be presented with a steep bill because she didn't have Ontario health insurance, and it hadn't occurred to her that, since she paid no taxes here, she wasn't automatically provided with health care by the Ontario government.

Which brings me to my last point - health care in Canada is not "free". We pay extraordinarily high taxes in this country for the privilege of being provided with mediocre service by an inefficient government monopoly. I challenge Don Martin to do a little research & find out what kind of private health insurance he could get in Pittsburgh for the equivalent money he pays in health-related taxes in Ontario.


rabbit said...

There is a difference between socialized health delivery and socialized health insurance. Indeed, it's impossible to have a sensible discussion about Canadian health care without clearly differentiating between the two.

Of course that doesn't stop the entire nation from trying...

Anonymous said...

My sister in law and family from Spain spent Christmas here in Canada with us. They had to go to our local rural clinic. Having no Cdn insurance they had to plunk down $500 for the 1st visit (plus the x-ray and cast charges) and about 120 each for the next 3 follow-ups. They did love the nursing staff and they didn't complain.