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Gratitude Fridays: In praise of universal, single-payer health care


Diana of Creative Structures introduced the idea of blogging each Friday about things we are grateful for. My list is extremely long and it's a shame that I don't think often enough, every day, about all of the things that I am grateful for.

Now this photo, of a kitty I met last month as he basked in the setting sun in Montefalco, has nothing really to do with the rest of this post. Although I am grateful I saw him -- just looking at his pose makes me feel more relaxed.

My topic, instead, is how grateful I am for Canada's single-payer health care system. By this, I mean Canada's medicare system where a single payer, the federal government (channeling all of our tax dollars,) covers the cost of basic health care for all Canadians.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Does it work well? I think so.

Under our system, no matter who you work for -- or if you're unemployed, retired, a student, a homemaker -- you have full health care benefits. The benefits aren't tied to your employer and the company's health plan; or tied to where you live or what you do. Or how much money you have.

My description is pretty simplistic, I admit. There are hundreds of caveats. Some provinces and cities have longer waiting lists for services than others; some charge premiums (usually based on income and often paid by employers); and some services aren't covered. Prescription drugs, for example. Not generally covered.

There are waiting lists for all sort of procedures. But the system is based on triage -- the more dire your condition, the faster you receive care. I waited 3 months for sinus surgery. I thought that was fair.

The bottom line: if you are sick, you will get good care no matter who you are or how much -- or little -- money you have. For this, I'm extremely grateful.

This is top of mind right now because the provision of heath care -- who gets it, who pays for it -- is yet again becoming a very heated debate in the U.S. as President Obama moves to introduce a more fair and efficient health care system.

His extremely wealthy opponents who like the status quo (presumably, it's contributing to their wealth) have found a Canadian spokeswoman to denounce Canada's universal medicare system and in so doing, is creating a lot of harm and misunderstanding.

Shona Holmes, of Waterdown, Ont., is now being featured in a U.S. TV ad campaign, running in 50 states, claiming that she would have died if she had waited to be treated in Canada for a rare type of cyst at the base of her brain called a Rathke's cleft cyst. So, she re-mortgaged her home and paid about $100,000 for the treatment at the Mayo Clinic, in Arizona, after doctors in Canada told her she would have to wait several months for a referral to a specialist here.
(She's now seeking reimbursment from the Ontario government)

But experts quoted today by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation say that Holmes has greatly exaggerated the severity of her condition, especially the claim she was facing death.

Neurosurgeon Michael Schwartz of Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital told CBC that he's never seen or heard of a death from a Rathke's cyst. He told CBC News symptoms can be alleviated if the cyst is drained or part of it removed to take pressure off the optic nerve.

Add the neurosurgeon: "If somebody called me about a patient that was losing her vision or had a structural abnormality of the brain, I would see them within days."

Which is how the system is supposed to work: triage. Most severe, dangerous cases take precedence. In an ideal world, there would be no waiting lists of course. But I think triage is the next best thing.

Anyway, it seems the fight against U.S. health care reform is getting to full gear. The contentious advertisement is being run by a conservative lobby group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and some estimate it will spend $250 million this year to fight Obama's plan to involve the government playing a role in reforming U.S. health care.

Comments (18)

Great post,Sandra. Universal health care is a reason for great gratitude. Working in the health care division, I am always saddened when I see people too concerned about paying for services and procedures that they turn some down. I'll take triage any day.

Very informative post. I love learning about medical care internationally and yes, you are right, there is no perfect system. But Triage works well here as well, and I am also VERY grateful to know that if something happens to me, or anyone I know here, we will ALL be taken care of. That is a blessing. A huge one. Thank you for the post!


Hi Candi, I think part of the reason health care costs run so high in the U.S. is that people often don't get the treatment they need early enough, for financial reasons, so that their conditions become really extreme (and expensive!) when they eventually do get help.

Diana, it is really interesting to compare different systems across countries. I'm so grateful knowing that all of my friends and loved ones will be cared for regardless of where we live or how much money (and insurance!) we have!

I'm so thinkful for our healthcare system as well. I can't imagine people who have to decide between financial health or medical treatment - it is NOT right! Health care should be a service like police or firefighters or public education.

Apparently there are a few Shona Holmes in the Hamilton area and they are being innundated with hate calls.

It takes the Conservative Right in the US to mess that up. Imagine wanting to be THEIR poster child - grrrrr


Wonderful post, Sandra. I love the idea of Gratitude Fridays! I must make a note to do that myself. And I love your topic, we do have a great health care system.

Although our mental health care sucks, at least in NS. We've really been through the ringer trying to get good help for my Sara. After her overdose last year, she was put on the children's system waiting list and received some treatment, although with very inadequate followup. Then in Feb, when she turned 19, she was told she was no longer eligible for children's services but she could go on the waiting list for adult services if she wanted (i.e. it was up to her, they didn't refer her over.) Mental health is also on a triage basis, but you'd think overdosing would put you fairly high on the list for treatment. We were irate and frustrated, to say the least.

Oops, I really am grateful for our health care system, in spite of my above ranting!


Jerry, it isn't right that people are denied basic health care. I feel sorry for the millions that don't have coverage -- and for all of the other Shona Holmes that have been dragged into this!

Anne, I'm so sorry that you and your family have really been through the wringer in terms of mental health care. There are a lot of horror stories; I had a good friend here who lost his daughter to suicide and a few years later, took his own life. The family just couldn't seem to get the help it needed.

It seems that this is a part of health care that is sorely neglected and just drops to the bottom of so many governments' priority lists. With tragic results.

I hope Sara is getting better care now, but what a terrible ordeal for you and your family.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, A single payer health care system is a great thing to be grateful for. My hope is that the US can implement a similar universal healthcare system here.

I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to Sara Anne and also what happened to your friend Sandra. I do hope all areas of health care gets the proper attention that is needed.

Thank you for raising this interesting topic Sandra. Let's hope that the US can follow our neighbors to the north.

I find it fascinating reading about the various health care systems in each country. I guess there are flaws in every system and I still can't understand why there is so much difficulty in figuring out a system by now that works for everyone. I guess of course money is the key issue. At least in Canada, in most cases, you don't need to worry about cost versus services. Is the dental care system the same? And vision?

My health insurance changed July 1st without having any say in it - a union decision. Now I will be paying much more out of pocket. I am not happy with the change and am wondering just how much more it will cost me this year vs last if I do need continued care for my shoulder. Already the MRI will cost double because I had it done in July instead of June. I am lucky though to have health insurance and a job. My sister does not have health insurance. I worry about her health and hope that Obama and our government can finally work out a reasonable health care system soon for everyone.

Oh, and I forgot to add... I LOVE the photo of the cat in the golden sun. He looks so peaceful.


Very informative post, Sandra. Thank you for sharing.


Hi Kathy, I hope the U.S. can find a way to improve its health care system, to make it more affordable and accessible. I know many people have coverage through their employers but what happens if they lose their job, or need to change jobs? It just doesn't make sense!

Nor does it make sense that mental health care is not made a priority -- in Canada or (I believe) in the U.S.

I'll end my rant there and say that I hope you have a great weekend, Kathy!

Hi Girasoli, welcome home. I'm really sorry to hear that your health premiums are going way up, that is really tough (at a time when I'm sure your salary is not keeping pace!) And you must be worried for your sister.

In Canada, most dental care isn't covered so people rely on employer plans or buy private insurance. Same with vision care, although some eye exams are covered. Not ideal because dental and vision care are important parts of overall health care.

Hi Nancy, thanks for stopping by!


speaking of gratitute, this seems like an appropriate time to share my Italy health care story.

I had a throat infection (quincy) while in Venice, so went to the Lido hospital. The place was deserted, I went right into emergency, saw the doctor, and got a prescription. The visit cost 25 Euros, which I paid into a machine. The prescription itself cost about $10 Canadian - in Canada it would have been $50 or more.

In Canada (at least here in Ontario), if you visit an emergency room and don't have insurance you're looking at hundreds of dollars just to shake the doctor's hand.


Hi Glen, that sounds like an extremely good experience in an Italian hospital. I took my mother to a doctor and then a clinic (for blood tests) in Florence 3 years ago. It also went really smoothly, small fees and good treatement.

I'm sorry to hear you've had such bad experiences with Ontario's medical system. I've had excellent care here in Ottawa, and when I lived in Alberta and Sask as well. My elderly parents have also received excellent care. BUT there's no denying there have been some long waits, especially in emergency. It seems ambulances get priority (which is probably how it should be, and now whenever my Mom gets sick, we call an ambulance, no more walk-ins!)


Oh Sandra, I'm so sorry to hear about your friend and his daughter. Thankfully Sara is doing much better these days. The excitement of university seems to be doing her a world of good.

I am very grateful that psychiatric care IS covered by our provincial health care program!


Oh no let me clarify I've never had a bad experience in Canada myself, the opposite in fact. The system here is great.

But if you're an American for example, and you have to visit the ER here...bring cash and lots of it!


Ooops, sorry Glen -- I misunderstood. I guess Americans must be accustomed to needing a lot of travel health insurance where ever they go! I admit, I only think about insurance when I travel to the States (which isn't often) and even then probably don't get enough!


A really informative post,Sandra.I ,too, hope that the U.S. can figure out how to provide healthcare for everyone.I agrre that healthcare should be a right, not a priviledge.It is a disgrace to have 36 million (or more) uninsured in this country.


Thanks, Sheri --I can't imagine how stressful it must be for the millions that don't have health coverage in the U.S.

Actually, I can kind of imagine what that would feel like -- when I took my elderly Mom to Italy 3 years ago, we bought very expensive travel health insurance (because she had several pre-existing medical conditions) and I worried constantly that if anything went wrong and we actually needed to invoke the coverage, the insurer would find a loophole and not pay. To be so reliant on an insurance company which exists to make money (and that often means attempting to avoid payouts) was not a comfortable feeling!

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