Health care in Canada


PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — “You can touch. Go ahead,” Sharon said, pointing to her chest.

I was a little reluctant, you understand. I hesitated. But her husband, John, smiled his encouragement. So, I — touched.

Sorry to disappoint the prurient, but this isn’t about a triangle. It’s about a rectangle. Its longest side is maybe an inch, and its parameters are visible only when Sharon pushes against her skin, just below and to the left of her collarbone. A pacemaker.

For years, Sharon had been dealing with a variety of cardiac arrhythmia — irregular heartbeat — and she and her doctors had treated it with pharmaceuticals. But this was different. John had welcomed her home after a business trip and taken her to dinner but as they returned to their car he watched her struggle for breath so he drove her directly to the nearest hospital. “Not two minutes” after reaching the emergency room Sharon was on a gurney, wired to various monitors and an ER doctor hovering over her, and the on-call cardiologist en route.

Sharon was transferred to a cardiac unit when the drugs that previously had stabilized her heart rate failed to work. On the sixth day, when Sharon was judged able to undergo the procedure safely, in went the pacemaker. Four more days in the cardiac unit to make certain the device was doing its thing. Then, home.

Using a variety of sources, I calculate the services Sharon received, in U.S. dollars, at about $60,000 minimum. The bill would have gone first to her insurance company, assuming she had coverage; it likely would have paid no more than 80 percent, leaving John and Sharon with a $12,000 bill.

They did not wait long for the bill. In fact they didn’t wait at all.

There was no bill.

Sharon and John, you see, are Canadians, of Vancouver, British Columbia, who somehow are making do under a “socialist” health care system, one rather more socialist than the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. It covers everything: medical, dental, vision, hearing, immunizations, procedures, drugs, all diagnostics such as x-rays and MRIs, surgeries, convalescences, catastrophic care and so forth. Now, this kind of coverage it is not free, no sir, not by any stretch of the imagination. John’s annual income, about $115,000 (U.S.), drives the cost of his and Sharon’s annual premium to $1,566.50.

Did I mention that John is diabetic, diagnosed almost 40 years ago, yet never has been denied insurance coverage or treatment?

“Would I have been able to get (health insurance) when I started work 35 years ago, if I was in the U.S.?” he asks. “Would I even be alive today?” To which an American might respond — perhaps, with John’s medical expenses passed along to those with insurance in the form of higher premiums.

“We’ve told this story to many of our American friends, and each time we do I see them struggling to believe us, but it is absolutely true,” John says. “Yes, we pay for that health care but we would pay double (or maybe triple) that to maintain that feeling of security.”

What Canadians pay, per capita, for health care is approximately $3,400 less each year than Americans. Somehow they manage to live, on average, three years longer than Americans. Thus Canadians approve of their health care system by something in the neighborhood of 85 percent, and punish at the polls any politician who suggests weakening it. Thus John and Sharon wonder what Americans are so afraid of, even as they suspect they would “love” a system similar to Canada’s. Thus, for opponents of even a step in that direction, such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Obamacare’s foremost Senate opponent, stopping it indeed is “now or never.”

There is no discussion in Congress of building a Rio Grande-style fence along the U.S.-Canadian border to keep our neighbors from sneaking into our nation to take advantage of the Best Health Care System in the World. The Canadians, at least for a time, were wondering if they ought to build such a fence; so many Americans were motoring north to purchase pharmaceuticals at sharply lower prices that parking spaces were at a premium. The U.S. eased the jams somewhat and avoided a diplomatic crisis by creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit, itself a sort of socialist endeavor, one supposes.

So as the U.S. Congress plays Russian roulette with the nation’s credit rating in a bid to derail Obamacare, and as much the same attitude threatened a (strictly short-term) solution to soaring teacher health insurance premiums in Arkansas, consider that the health care program in Canada is not perfect. Hospital parking costs $6 per day.

Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and host of Arkansas Week on AETN.