Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Canadian Healthcare System

A few days ago I sent a link to many friends and family of a story that John Stossel did on 20/20 about government healthcare in Canada. In this story, Stossel paints a pretty grim picture of that country’s healthcare system, with long lines having waits up to 23 hours and delays in getting critical care. I thought it an important message worthy of being viewed by many others, thus the reason for sending the link.

On Saturday night, my family and I went to a party celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. Some friends of his that live in Canada came down for the event. As people left and the remaining people congregated into one room, I was itching to ask them for their personal perspective of their country’s healthcare. Eventually, someone broached the subject and I took advantage of it. I asked, “What do you think of Canada’s healthcare system?” Immediately one of the visitors threw his hand up into the air with his thumb extended even higher and said, “I give it a thumbs up.”

Over the next hour or so a very interesting conversation ensued and I was able to find out more about the Canadian health system first hand from three residents of that country. All three agreed that their system was working very well. Not perfect, as no system is perfect, but well. They admitted that it had had its problems in the past, but over the last 25 years the system had been tweaked and was now running quite efficiently. I was told that families pay about $108 per month for insurance (yes, insurance companies still exist and the government works with them) and the government kicks in about 12% of the country’s GDP. By way of contrast, the USA is estimated to spend a total of 17% of GDP. One person said that the most she had ever waited to see a doctor was about two hours. Another said he had waited longer, but generally it was not a problem. He did say that the waits might be longer in rural areas where there are limited healthcare facilities. The full cost of any medical care is paid by the insurance; not even a co-pay is required.

The Canadian population is low enough that some newer or more advanced medical tests and treatments are sometimes not available. In these circumstances, the insurance will pay for the patient and his or her family to visit the United States for service.

Knowing that many US citizens are concerned about socialized medicine leading to rationing and a defunding of general research, I inquired about these things. They responded that they had not seen any rationing happening. They further said that much medical research was being conducted in conjunction with universities.

Wow! And double WOW! How is it possible that these personal experiences with the Canadian healthcare system are so radically different than what was reported by John Stossel? Was I being fed a line by brainwashed Canadians? I really don’t think so. They all seemed like good people with sincere stories about how medicine operates in their country. Was Stossel being dishonest in this report? I don’t believe that either. I suspect that Stossel’s stories, to be provocative and entertaining, focused on the worst experiences of our northern neighbors. My friend’s friends were telling the story from the trenches. Let’s just hope that if some form of government-run healthcare passes in the US, it will work reasonably well, not become politicized, and improve over the coming years.

For a report validating much of what I heard from the Canadians, look at this:



  1. Randy, I have no reason to doubt the people you talked to but I am wondering if people who have medical issues other than routine office visits would say the same thing. I think that is where many of the people consider entering the U.S. for treatment otherwise unobtainable quickly in Canada. One thing that Stossel said that does not change is that capitalism fuels innovation.

  2. What did you really expect Stossel to say? Like most warriors in the ideology wars in the U.S., his train makes only one stop. As for unobtainable treatments, they may exist in this country but if they aren't approved by your insurance company, they are still unaffordable (and, therefore, unobtainable). This is especially true for new technologies and new (read: innovative) uses of existing technologies.