Debunking Canadian health care myths

I was amazed to read this article in the Denver Post – Debunking Canadian health care myths. The author claims to have lived in Canada 17 years ago, but clearly has no idea of the current situation. I’ve lived in both the United States and Canada in the last 10 years and I can state clearly that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

She says:

Overall, Canada’s taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent.

Actually, the after-tax income of Canadian workers is a little closer to about 52% of their gross pay, including our new healthcare tax in Ontario, and US workers are often paid more for the same job. When I moved to the US, I had my HR department calculate my take-home pay three times because I didn’t believe it could be so high.

She says:

More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead.

1% overhead huh? Actually it’s closer to 17%. I currently live in Waterloo, Canada, where we are paying a former hospital CEO two years severance (about $750,000) after he was let go for not doing his job, while we pay the current CEO a similar amount. We have local health network bureaucracies that tell the hospitals how they may spend their money. We block fund hospitals and don’t allow deficits, meaning that their goal is to limit serving patients rather than treat more so as to conserve money. And there is out and out bureaucratic waste.

She says:

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

Really? About two minutes of searching turned up this article. The provincial health bureaucracies control drugs as well as access to diagnostic equipment.

She says:

There are no waits for urgent or primary care in Canada. There are reasonable waits for most specialists’ care, and much longer waits for elective surgery.

If you are fortunate enough to have a family doctor, you will probably wait a week or two for an appointment. An ER visit will be a minimum 9 hour wait. My wife had a car accident a year ago and she is still waiting for an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. Wait times are a chronic problem.

She says:

Most physicians in Canada are self-employed. They are not employees of the government nor are they accountable to the government. Doctors are accountable to their patients only.

No they are not employees of the government. It isn’t clear who they are accountable to. The amount they bill to the government is capped, so there is now a multitude of administrative fees, such as $20 to renew a prescription, or $100 to have your medical records forwarded to another doctor. Oh that’s right, in Canada you do not own your medical records. A while ago a local clinic closed and patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars to get access the their medical records.

She says:

From a purely statistical standpoint, there are enough physicians in Canada to meet the health care needs of its people. But most doctors practice in large urban areas, leaving rural areas with bona fide shortages.

That would be funny if it weren’t so sad. 16% of Canadians do not have a family doctor. We live in a community of 500,000, 45 minutes outside of Toronto – hardly rural – and we just got a doctor when an office opened up that was taking patients. Even then, the doctors won’t take patients who are too ill, and generally forbid you from visiting any other clinic while you are a patient. As a result of not having doctors, our emergency rooms are perenially overcrowded.

She says:

Ten percent of Canada’s GDP is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 17 percent of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage.

She’s got me there, but that 10.6% only pays about 71% of the cost. And yes everyone is covered, but wait times to see specialists and for procedures can be extreme.

There are substantial differences between the American and Canadian systems. Yes it would be ideal if everyone was covered, but not if it results in a slow bureaucratic system with underserviced areas and long wait times. A clear and rational analysis is necessary.

But misinformation such as this article serves no one.

7 thoughts on “Debunking Canadian health care myths

  1. “But misinformation such as this article serves no one.”

    Ironic thing to say, as your very own blog response is even worse as far as misinformation, she has statistics, you reply with anecdotal evidence! bravo borsato

  2. Having discussions with Americans I’ve found there is a lot of misinformation about Canadian health care (they think it’s magical).

    I spoke with a fellow in California with severe emphazima who was trying to find a way to move to Canada as he couldn’t afford his treatments. He assured me he wasn’t alone!
    Good discussion

  3. Rick, you might want to look at the included links. I’ve tried to address areas where she provides statistics, but I see that she also relies on anecdotal evidence.

    I don’t attempt to suggest that one system is better than the other, but some of her statements just do not agree with my experience, and I’ve lived and obtained healthcare services in both countries for myself and my family.

  4. The problem in Canada is that we’re always comparing our system with what rich, insured people get across the border, and forget about the huge percentage of the population that get no health care at all.

    Canadians always have the option to take a “medical holiday” to the States, pay your $20,000 and have your treatment right away. So if they’re tired of wait times, they should put their money where their mouth is.

    We should really be making comparisons with the rest of the rich nations (UK, Australia, Europe, etc.) The US is a statistical anomaly where most “healthcare” money goes to insurance and drug companies.

  5. You are fairly accurate about the comparison Jason, but when I lived in the US I don’t think I would have been called rich; perhaps upper middle class though. And I had an excellent Blue Cross plan that afforded me excellent care at no additional cost beyond my co-pay.

    Also most people don’t realize that many states including Massachusetts by law cannot turn anyone away from an emergency room regardless of ability to pay, though this does vary by state.

    I’ve always wondered though why we can’t pay for medical service in Canada is we are able to. My parents have long wanted to do so as they are able to afford it. Why can’t Canada have a private/public system? Other countries do so.

  6. Many Americans think a national health insurance will be the be all and end all. If you look at what is actually being said they speak of monitoring treatment plans, which in layman’s terms means you have some government hack deciding your treatment plan. Living in Mass I can say Larry is right that no one is turned away. All you need to do is to walk into any emergency room and see that is correct.

    Most treatment in the United States is elective. It is the hip or knee replacement that while not life threatening impacts the quality of life. A system such as Canada’s will impact many. Also you must remember that those who are debating the change, and have the power to implement it are covered under a specific plan for politicians etc that will not change under any new plan.

    It is the same in public education. The politicians say we must fix the public schools etc yet no politician puts there children in any public school. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

    Many Americans think a national health insurance will be the be all and end all. If you look at what is actually being said they speak of monitoring treatment plans, which in layman’s terms means you have some government hack deciding your treatment plan. Living in Mass I can say Larry is right that no one is turned away. All you need to do is to walk into any emergency room and see that is correct.

    Most treatment in the United States is elective. It is the hip or knee replacement that while not life threatening impacts the quality of life. A system such as Canada’s will impact many. Also you must remember that those who are debating the change, and have the power to implement it are covered under a specific plan for politicians etc that will not change under any new plan.

    It is the same in public education. The politicians say we must fix the public schools etc yet no politician puts there children in any public school. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. That is how it is in Washington.

  7. Well as soon as I read the percent of take home pay after taxes in Canada I knew the author was full of BS. Last year I grossed over 70 k and my income tax was 21% after deductions.

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