That demon Canadian Health Care

Watching the news channels from America

and shows like The Daily Show it has become apparent to me that I no longer care at all about America's health care question. I realize that it's an important issue facing Americans but the fact is that you can only watch people acting like complete tools so long before you start to get frustrated and annoyed. I understand that some Americans want universal health care, and I understand that others don't. However the complete inability to keep the debate focused on reality is starting to drive me mad. And the fact that the Republicans keep demonizing Canadian, British and other health care systems without even really understanding what they're talking about is also frustrating. This is from an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily arguing against health care reform in the US:

The U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the “quality adjusted life year.” One year in perfect health gets you one point. Deductions are taken for blindness, for being in a wheelchair and so on. The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care.

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

To which John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out that Stephen Hawking was born and raised in the United Kingdom [df]. Just because his vocal computer doesn't have an English accent and he doesn't end each sentence with "pip pip, jolly good!" I suppose he's an honorary American.

I can only speak from my own experience

but I have never had anything to complain about with my apparently horrible health care.  I have of course heard the horror stories from America about a trip to the emergency room, some x-rays and pain killers costing $8,000 but since I've never experienced that I can't really comment.  I think in any system, no matter who pays for it, there's going to be a few horror stories if only because anytime you're talking about millions of patients and thousands to hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and employees a few bad things are bound to happen.  So then let's talk about my medical history, and we had best get started now otherwise we'll be here well past dinner. 

2777790190_24e5ffa587I was born with tricuspid artresia, a heart defect that essentially means that there is a hole between the two halves of my heart.  The half with the oxygenated blood was not properly separated from the half with blood without oxygen.  In graph terms the blue blood and the red blood was mixing to form a kind of purple-ish blood that left me constantly short of breath.  It's rare and it took a bit to diagnose but eventually it ended up being decided that I needed surgery. 

I had surgeries when I was three months old, three years old, six years old and again when I was seven.  The latter two were open heart surgeries, and one I ended up spending about six months in the hospital recovering from after getting an infection.  I spent most of those six months in the intensive care unit, and that had to have been expensive.   My parents were young, well certainly younger than they are now, and had they had to pay for my care they most likely would not have been able to expand their business and become as well off as they are now.

The government covered the cost of my surgeries, and they were able to keep running their business without laying people off or having to sell off their convince stores or gas stations.  Instead of being financially destroyed by having to fund my operations they were able to keep working and they've well paid off the cost of my surgery by the extra taxes that they've paid for being in a higher tax bracket.  In turn having survived I've now had a number of years of paying GST and at least fourteen of paying income tax.

Let's talk about more current medical events

to be fair it's hard to talk about what my parents might have had to pay back in the 1980s.  I do think that it's important to understand that at no point during my long and expensive stay at the University of Alberta hospital did any government official show up and say that if I cost them much more they were going to have to put me down.  There were no "Death Panels" and there was no conversation about how much my life was costing the tax payers of Alberta.  And trust me if there was a province that would have put Death Panels into place to help cut costs it would have been Alberta.  I mean it's not socialist like Quebec.

But let's move more recently during my university years.  A few months having a pace maker put in, something suggested during one of my yearly check-ups with my cardiologist for the previously discussed heart condition, I started having intense abdominal pains.  A few nights they became so bad that I ended up going to the emergency room.  Pain killers, a few hours in the ER, x-rays and other tests cost nothing.  Eventually they discovered that I had gallstones [wp] and a few days later had surgery to remove them.  The surgery, the series of tests, the hospital stay the ER usage all cost me nothing.  Nobody from the government showed up to determine if I should be treated, nobody was in charge of what happened to me other than myself and the medical professionals working at Kelowna General Hospital.

Then there is my suspected sleep apnoea

for which I recently saw a specialist and then spent a night at Richmond Hospital being examined in a fairly sophisticated sleep study room.  It's true that before I jumped right to the sleep study room I had to visit my regular doctor to get him to send me to the specialist who then prescribed the sleep study but I doubt that it's different under a private insurance company. 

Speaking of private insurance companies

I have an awful hard time getting them to cover me.  Since I was born with a heart condition I have a pre-existing condition and nobody will cover me.  I have been lucky to have jobs where my employer provides insurance and so I get covered under that.  If I had to find my own private health insurance I'd be out of luck, and given the way that the companies behave in America if I did live in the United States I would most likely be out of luck even with the best employer provided coverage. 

Yes even in Canada there is still private health insurance.  While all insurance plans differ they tend to cover what the government does not such as extended health care (prescription drugs, medical supplies, hearing aids, vision care, semi-private or private room in hospital, complementary health services such as chiropractic and registered massage therapy), dental plans and the like.  My braces would have been covered by my private health care, since straight teeth are not a life or death issue.

If you're going to knock Canadian Health Care

you're not going to convince me.  If you're an American and bump into a Canadian on holidays ask them about what they think of American health care.  Better yet ask them what they would do if they had to go to the doctor's in America.  Short of severe injury most Canadians would probably report that they would rather wait until they got home, unless they've bought quite a good travel insurance package.  We all suspect that even coughing in the direction of an American doctor will cost us around eight hundred dollars, so we tend to tell each other things like, "Oh well just suck it up until you get back home."

And yes as someone in a middle tax bracket maybe in the long term I will have paid more into the health care system via my taxes than I will ever get out of it (though given my medical history that's unlikely).  However the fact that I know that if I ever need medical attention nobody is going to check to see if I have proper insurance or a large enough bank account before administering care is a relief.  When I was in university and had to deal with gallstones if I had been presented with a bill for the hospital care I had received I would have had no way to pay it.  My parents would have had no way to pay what could have been hundreds of thousands of dollars for my pre-existing heart condition and the surgery that has allowed me to continue to live.

So while the American right turns fear tactics on again, after finding that screaming "terrorist" no longer wins Presidential elections, and starts talking about Death Panels and the creeping specter of communism, I'll have you keep your hands off of my Canadian Health Care.  If you want to call it a demon, then by gosh it's the most helpful demon I've known.