Canada's Not So Free Health Care


You Get What You Pay For

The other day in the process of my day job I was speaking with a US client and the subject of health care in my country, Canada, came up. He had always been under the impression that Canada had free health care. He assumed that it meant we received completely free health care at zero cost. Although I did eventually steer the conversation back to the business at hand I did shatter that fairy tale. But it did get me thinking and I realized that it is most likely many people outside Canada think that medical care is completely free. Thus I wrote this article to set the record straight.

How Free Canadian Health Care Is Supposed To Work

The basic premise of free health care is that it gets paid for by taxes. In Canada we are taxed for just about every possible thing you can think of and some of each tax is supposed to be going toward medical care. Also when every individual prepares their income taxes on an annual basis there is also a section for medical care. Historically if you made over $20,000 dollars in that year you owe a percentage of your income to the government. So already your paying for medical care without even using it unless your far below the poverty line.

Now does this process really hurt someone that makes over $100,000 a year? Probably not. But even if you set aside the astronomical ballooning cost of living in Canada it is still a issue for those making between the $20,000 - $40,000 range. Primarily due to the rising costs even these wage earners are having trouble making ends meet.

Now let's see what your paying for when you actually use it.


What Canadian Health Care Doesn't Pay For

In general Canadian health care covers the visit to the doctor, some medical procedures and transplants. It doesn't cover any of the following:

  • Prescription medications of any kind.
  • Crutches.
  • Ambulance rides (that's right when someone collapses and goes to the hospital expect a bill in the mail, I got one).
  • Dental exams or anything associated with them (check ups, cleanings, fillings, root canals, everything else).
  • Eye exams or anything associated with them (Exams used to be free, now it may cost anywhere from $90 - $150 dollars just for the exam, you pay for any treatment, glasses).
  • Puffers (for asthma or any related breathing issues)
  • Any equipment needed for Diabetics (Blood sugar testing machine).

The list goes on and on.

Nice new looking buildings but no real help, they should be using that money to get more doctors.
Nice new looking buildings but no real help, they should be using that money to get more doctors. | Source

How Effective Is Canadian Health Care?

So now that we understand that the average Canadian is heavily taxed for this system and that it really only covers the visit and some procedures just how effective is it? There are many drawbacks.

  • Canada has a lack of doctors because going to the United States or other countries can mean that they get paid as much as five times what they could here.
  • This means that family doctors are scarce, many Canadians do not have a family doctor and when one becomes available (although the info isn't readily available when they are) there is a mad rush by the population in any area to be listed as a patient with the new doctor (if we didn't have phones and computers and had to physically go in it would be a riot as people would probably get violent just to be on the list.) Anyone without a family doctor can't make an appointment to be seen they have to go to the emergency room for any and all care.
  • When you go to an emergency waiting room you will wait a long time. When I lived in a rural area where population was low I still waited an average of three hours to see a doctor. Several times attending an emergency room in a few different small to medium sized cities I waited between of 6 - 9 hours to see a doctor.
  • We also need to consider that any hospital with an emergency room and doctor treating you is getting paid by the government for your visit. So numbers mean a whole lot more to them than your care. Unless you are pretty much dying when you come in the doctor in the emergency room will do everything he can to get you in and out the door as quickly as possible. The more visits he completes the more the hospital gets paid from the government and the more he gets paid. This will mean that many many doctors will never take the time needed to truly understand let alone attempt to treat your ailment.
  • With the lack of doctors specialists are often only found in large cities and their schedules can be backed up for years. This means anyone not living in a major city may have to travel to get treatment and again waiting months or even years to be seen.
  • If you need a transplant (heart, liver, etc.) you are put on a list due to organ availability and again surgeon availability, many people live for years and still die while waiting on that list. To put this in perspective consider that a 10-year old child could die waiting for a liver transplant while a rich 70-year old man may cross the border into the states and pay for a transplant and get the organ and surgeons service right away.
  • Even with all of these issues the percentage of tax we pay that goes to medical care continues to rise year after year although constant announcements proclaim more and more cutbacks. Hospitals close, some get reduced staff, the amount of doctors, nurses, equipment lessens and we continue to pay more for less.

What Do You Think About The Canadian Health Care System?

See results without voting

Why Did I Write This Article?

I've not even reached middle age yet and even at my age I have seen people in their thirties with ongoing ailments that could have been easily treated but are allowed to continue effecting them possibly causing permanent damage.

One close friend in particular hurt her knees. Both swelled up horribly and after attending the emergency room for hours she was seen by a doctor that told her to take some over the counter Ibuprofen. Which she did for a week to no effect. At that point her knees looked like swelled grape fruits she again attended the emergency room and was told to keep taking the Ibuprofen. But with that lack of care on behalf of two different doctors she finally scheduled an appointment with her family doctor and was then told her appointment is a month from now (she's what we in Canada consider to be lucky as she has a family doctor.)

So at this point she can barely walk from one room to another instead of walking to work as she normally would. She will need to call a cab everyday to get to and from work and costing her an arm and a leg (no pun intended as this issue makes me angry to no end) and hope they don't drive away before she gets out her front door. As she can barely walk she had to go to a second hand store and buy an old crutch as this wasn't even something considered or even offered by the doctors who have seen her puffed up knees. Things need to change.

Below I included a video I saw on Youtube that explains socialized medicine. Apparently Obamacare is on the path to emulate our system in Canada. I can only tell any american reading this that it is a horrible mistake. If you think it is a great idea watch the video and think about it.

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dmeguide profile image

dmeguide 3 years ago from Lehi, UT

When people talk about the benefits of socializing healthcare, as with any other industry or element of life, they run into this problem: any time you reduce or remove on a society-wide basis the accountability a person has for his own actions, the net result is detrimental to society.

The best health care system is one that encourages a person to take care of himself rather than depending upon others to provide health care for "free".

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

dmeguide - a valid point my friend, thanks for reading :)

dmeguide profile image

dmeguide 3 years ago from Lehi, UT

You're welcome, terrektwo.

I enjoyed your article.

Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi terrektwo... I agree with you on some of your points, the main one is the fact our health care system is in trouble, no doubt. I live in a small community after moving from Calgary. I know about the long waits in emergency, the complete opposite is found here in the small community. I consider myself to be very fortunate, even though I pay high taxes to be able to even see a doctor in comparison to other countries where service is refused unless you have insurance. Can we do better, certainly, can they do better I wonder?

The beauty of the small town is the fact the doctor is called in at anytime of the day or night. The health care system is flawed but I have a different view not so much about the lack of service but in regards to the dedication of the staff working in the system. Starting right from the cleaning staff all the way to the Doctors. They are selfless when it comes to their time and efforts, my vote will go to these fine people.

Part of the problem is the people, some are too lazy to find a Doctor, they attend the emergency departments for little or nothing, plugging the system. Education is key to better caring for your health, yes there needs to be some way of streamlining the services. I can tell you I would far prefer to be here and have the system at my fingertips when I need it before signing away my home and sacrificing my firstborn just to get medical help. Just my thoughts is all... my vote is I will vote for our system any day when I look at he alternatives.

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 3 years ago

The free market handles everything better. I am familiar with your system. I worked for a neurologist in the states and we saw many patients from Canada who needed an MRI and had to wait way too long. The results were catastrophic. I am beyond distressed at what is happening in my country. I really appreciate your article and I will share it with my followers. Up, useful, interesting and awesome!

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Just this very day, I listened to a radio program, while in my car....all about health care in various countries. Some of the information astounded me.

There was a special guest, A Russian/American Dr. who had very startling and frightening comments about what Obama Care will ultimately do to our country he compared it to the "Socialism" programs of Russia. Bottom line? All very negative news. Nothing good at all was discussed.

Unless one particular person who spoke on this radio program was mistaken...she claims that in Italy, normal office call visit appointments can take as long as 2 years..........Can this even be possible? I don't believe Italy is that backward, is it? Up+++

profile image

retief2000 3 years ago

Sadly the United States has long since abandoned any sort of free market resolution to solving problems in delivering quality health care at a reasonable price. Medical insurance has introduced cartel like price fixing and Medicare/Medicaid puts the power of central planning and government into manipulating price and reimbursement. Combine these two forces have mangled what ever price regulated free market place can exist in health care delivery.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

I am glad your community is better on wait time. On your comment about the people I agree there are good people out there, people that will do the right thing but the system rewards numbers not people cured. That said those that push people in and out of the emergency room will excel. Those doing the right thing and taking the time get phased out. That may be different in very rural areas where there are not many people to replace a doctor willing to go there. Also I disagree with the idea that people are too lazy to find a doctor. There is a real lack of any documentation, online, in print or even at the hospital that directs anyone as to how to get a family doctor. Ask staff at the hospital and they just shrug. It isn't made easy in any way to get a doctor and so most don't have a clue where to begin. I myself was without a family doctor for years until I finally found a way to get on a list. I was on it a few years and only get a family doctor because there are members of my household that have medical issues and children. Is it better here than a third world country, for sure, but like you said can we improve, absolutely.

tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 3 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

On Obamacare YOU NAYSAYERS have to give it time! As soon as Obamacare is fully implemented, now with all the delays which were not part of the law I think that would be somewhere between 2016 and 2020, by then I'm absolutely sure it will be at least as great as Canada's system! Of course you may be dead by then if you have an ailment but just think, your children may die young and not have to pay off the national debt we have burdened the next generation with so everyone can have healthcare, well I mean except for the 31,000,000 the CBO says still won't be insured by 2020.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

breakfastpop - yes sometimes change can be good but this one is bad for the US, if your adopting our system the future of your medicare will be as bleak as our own.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South

I'm so glad you wrote this! I had no idea. I have to say that it doesn't sound that much different than the way things are getting here! The whole health care system is in terrible trouble and so are we, as patients! It's scary. Great hub!

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

Well I can say here if you have a family doctor a month is common, a few months can happen. But again that is normal appointments, surgeries and procedures can take years here in Canada.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

I'm not the expert on US healthcare, but whatever it may be Canadian health care isn't free like everyone seems to think. If the US is adopting our system with the belief that it's better they are mistaken. Thanks for commenting :)

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retief2000 3 years ago

The real result of America adopting a government run health care delivery system will be a terrible burden for the Canadian people who currently avail themselves of America's sophisticated and readily available medical diagnostic technology.

Canadians often seek treatment in the US. I do not begrudge them this, in the least. I love Canada, who could ask for a better neighbor, but Americans and Canadians will suffer if America continues in this direction.

point2make 3 years ago

What a great hub. Your research is spot on and I was very impressed with your conclusions. The Canadian Health Care System is in great difficulty and there are no perfect answers to address the broken parts of the system. In the last few years Nova Scotia has made huge improvements in how they deliver health care. It is now quite easy, in Nova Scotia, to get a same day appointment with your doctor which is a great but the wait times for specialists and tests are still a very big issue. Unfortunately most other provinces do not score as well on health care delivery and wait times can be measured in "years". In New Brunswick , for example, it can take 4+weeks just to get an appointment with your family doctor......assuming you actually have one! Across Canada those without family doctors crowd the emergency departments of their local hospitals putting further strain on an already fragile system. Thanks for sharing such a timely and well done hub.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

Interesting comments, thanks for your point of view :)

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

catgypsy - true health care here is pretty bad and could be going that way in the US, it is pretty sad. Thanks you for reading and commenting though!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

Thank you for sharing your view of the Canadian health care system. Yes, many think it is "free" when in reality it is not. Nothing is free, especially when it comes to health care. I am afraid our nation is adopting a system that will errode the youth's dream for a better future and diminish the hope of many. Voted up and sharing.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

retief2000 - you are right of course the in the US historically you could pay for the care you need and so Canadians able to pay could cross over and do so. If the US does adopt our system that would be a thing of the past and getting those types of diagnostics would mean everyone would be waiting months or years.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the input, I'm not personally familiar with Nova Scotia's same day appointments but I can say that's a pipe dream anywhere I've ever lived. What you said about New Brunswick seems about how it is here. Good to know though, thanks.

terrektwo profile image

terrektwo 3 years ago from North America Author

teaches12345 - true, things never seem to change for the better and I suppose this is one of those times. Thank you for reading and commenting :)

Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

I love articles from the trenches. Thanks, terrktwo!

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