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How Free Is Free Health Care?

Updated on August 17, 2013

Free Health Care....At What Cost!

Free health care for all. Is such a thing possible or could the term actually qualify as an oxymoron?. Over the last 14 months, during the most trying of times, most of us have heard of the "free" health care systems in Canada and England. Depending on your political slant these examples were held out as a shining example of what health care could be or a socialist idea from left leaning countries that must be rejected out of hand. As usual the truth tends to get lost or, at best, distorted to fit a particular argument. Lets take a closer look at the "free" health care system north of the border in Canada.

A couple of things becomes apparent, very quickly, when talking to Canadians about their free health care system.The first thing Canadians will tell you about their system is... It isn't really free.The taxation levels in Canada are, per capita , the highest in the Western world and Health care is one of the main reasons. Secondly they complain that their health care system is beset with very serious problems that threaten the system itself. The third thing most Canadians will share with you about their health care system is their sincere appreciation that, in spite of all the faults in their own system, they don't live under the American health care system.

Every Canadian is aware of the horror stories of Americans getting sick and losing everything, including their homes, because they can't pay the medical bill. This scenario cannot happen in Canada and Canadians are very happy about that. They believe the problems they are facing in their own system are preferable to living in an American system where people chance losing everything if they get sick. You can understand their point and perhaps look a bit envious at the Canadian system.

Health care in Canada, called Medicare, is under provincial jurisdiction. It is funded by the federal government. All governments, both provincial and federal, in Canada are bound by "The Canada Health Act". This legislation spells out very clearly how and under what rules the provinces must deliver health care to their citizens. The most important rule is a status referred to as... Universality. This "universality" states that all Canadians , regardless of financial standing, are eligible to receive Medicare. The system is for everyone. This means that all citizens of Canada have full access to health care without exception.Simply put whether you're on social assistance or are a multi-millionaire being a citizen of Canada entitles you to free health care... period!

The promise of "free" health care is one of the main reasons Americans have become one of the fastest growing immigrant group in Canada. Nearly 10,000 Americans immigrate to Canada every year. A few years ago it was estimated that nearly 150,000 U.S citizens had a Canadian Medicare Card which would entitle them to free health care. It seems that many were establishing residence using a post office box in a border community and applying for a Medicare card. It worked for quite a while until the authorities got wise and closed the loop holes. Desperate people do desperate things.

From the outside, looking in, one would think that the Canadian Health care system is the example all countries should strive to attain for their citizens. To be fair there are many features to admire and the Canadian people, on the whole, would not trade their system especially for the American system of health care. That said however why, one might ask. do thousands of Canadians travel to the US for health care every year? They can get medical procedures for free and yet they travel to the US in huge numbers and pay for health care out of their own pocket.....why?

Simply put the Canadian health care system is overwhelmed almost to the breaking point. There are waiting lists for nearly every procedure. Some operations, such as hip replacement surgery, can take land a patient on a 2+year waiting list. Nearly every medical test requires waiting on a list for your turn. The doctors have huge patient files and the shortage of nurses, hospital beds, surgeons and family doctors is bordering on critical.

As of 2009 more than 5 million Canadians or 1 in 6 do not have a family doctor and must go to emergency rooms in the hospital to see to minor medical details which ties up the emergency rooms. There is not just a shortage of doctors in Canada it is much more serious than that. According to some, inside the system, the 5 million Canadians who do not have a doctor may never find one. and that number is expected to rise.

Simply put Free health care is not sustainable. The cost are too high, there are too many people and too few health care providers and facilities. Waiting list are the norm and there are many people who die while waiting for procedures. While the service provided by the medical professionals is very good they can only work with what is available. The cost have skyrocketed to the point where each province is spending 30+% of their total budget on their health care cost and that number is rising, alarmingly, each year.

The Canadian health care system faces enormous challenges in the coming years. With the baby boomers getting older the demand for health care will rise sharply. At the same time the population demographics show, in the future, there will be fewer young people working to pay the taxes that cover the costs for health care for all those retired. The system is in need of a major overhaul and most Canadians know it. How they will resolve these issues will prove to be an interesting case study for future reference.

If I could offer one last observation of the Canadian health care system it would be that it is uniquely Canadian. While it has worked for them, and I do believe they will solve many of their problems, It is designed for them. Looking to Canada for answers to our health care problems will not resolve the issues that all Americans face today.

The health care system in the US is world class in innovation, quality, and capacity which are the main reasons Canadians and others come to the US for health care. The biggest issue is cost control and patient accessibility and insurance affordability. Will health care reform solve these and other problems? Only time will tell but there are things we can do for ourselves.

It is imperative that all Americans get involved in this debate and, with their doctors, take control of their own health care. If you don't the politicians will make those decisions for you. Politicians will have ulterior motives and their agenda's will not, necessarily, always include you or your family best interests. Don't leave these decisions to them. It's your's your decision. Take control from them and return it to where it really!


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    • point2make profile image

      point2make 4 years ago

      Thank-you for your comments Healthexplorer..I appreciate them very much. You make a couple of good points. Health Care is, along with the economy, the most pressing issue of our time. Everyone needs it, or soon will, and the system is not prepared to handle the load that is coming.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 5 years ago

      Thank-you for your comments wba108. Your suggestion is an interesting idea. As long as the low cost could, somehow, be guaranteed for Americans and not controlled by the whims of the insurance industry then I think you may have something here.

    • profile image 5 years ago from upstate, NY

      An interesting perspective on the Canadian health care system and its advantages and disadvantages. Its interesting that financial security seems to be a major draw of the Canadian system, although I can see a much cheaper way to relieve American of their worries than to adopt the massive Canadian system. American could simple purchase a private insurance plan with a low cost very high deductible for catastrophic coverage.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 5 years ago

      Thank-you for your comments Hyphenbird....I appreciate them. Healthcare is such an important issue in both countries but the US is looking at revamping an entire system from's going to be very difficult and divisive.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This is great information about Canada's healthcare system. Alas, you are right that it worked for them but we Americans are a whole different animal. We really need a new everything. The first step would be for Americans to realize something is very wrong when 50 percent of the people have 4 prescriptions. Just eating right and exercising would give some relief to the burdened medical system. It can be scary. This really is a very important issue indeed.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 7 years ago

      Thanks for your comments Alicia. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Health care is a very important issue in both countries.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 7 years ago

      Thanks "voice" I appreciate it.

    • aliciaharrell profile image

      Alicia Rose Harrell 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Super hub :) Enjoyed the read. Thanks for pointing out the truths about the Canadian Health Care System. I have Canadian friends who confirmed what was in this article. Yes, some of them do sneak over the border to pay for Health Care ;)

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 7 years ago from carthage ill

      great hub truth