LA Times—In Canada, a move toward a private healthcare option

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada - When the pain in Christina Woodkey's legs became so severe that she could no long hike or cross-country ski, she went to her local health clinic. The Calgary, Canada, resident was told she'd need to see a hip specialist. Because the problem was not life-threatening, however, she'd have to wait about a year.

So wait she did.

In January, the hip doctor told her that a narrowing of the spine was compressing her nerves and causing the pain. She needed a back specialist. The appointment was set for Sept. 30. "When I was given that date, I asked when could I expect to have surgery," said Woodkey, 72. "They said it would be a year and a half after I had seen this doctor."

So this month, she drove across the border into Montana and got the $50,000 surgery done in two days.

"I don't have insurance. We're not allowed to have private health insurance in Canada," Woodkey said. "It's not going to be easy to come up with the money. But I'm happy to say the pain is almost all gone."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHealth & Medicine--The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.Canada

Posted September 28, 2009 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. AnglicanFirst wrote:

Let those with ears, listen!

September 28, 8:26 am | [comment link]
2. Mad Padre wrote:

This is true enough.  I had the same problem some years back, waiting for an MRI of my knee after a sports injury.  However, the reverse is true as well, that life-threatening conditions get rapid responses in our system, though that’s not heard often enough in the US.  I’ve known many parishioners and also family members over the years who have had diagnostic and surgical procedures within weeks and days of suspected tumours, cancers, etc.  I’m folllowing the health care debate in the US with great attention and I wouldn’t trade our Canadian health care system for yours. 
Let those with big teeth chew on trees says this humble Canuck beaver. smile

September 28, 9:43 am | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

“I don’t have insurance. We’re not allowed to have private health insurance in Canada,” Woodkey said.

Any Canadian readers care to comment?

This is not the case in the UK. Private health insurance schemes have been around at least since the 1980s.

September 28, 9:43 am | [comment link]
4. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Woollard said the public system has the nimbleness to provide speedy, quality care to those who truly need it.

“Just six or eight weeks ago, I had a patient come in who needed urgent attention to her knee. She was in severe pain,” he said. “She was seen by a [reviewing] team within a week, and she was slated for surgery that will probably happen in the next two to three months.”

Who is he trying to fool, besides himself? That was “six to eight weeks ago,” and the surgery will be nine to thirteen weeks from now. Total wait—something between 15 and 21 weeks. That’s four or five months a patient needing “urgent attention.”

And he’s proud of the “nimbleness to provide speedy, quality care to those who truly need it” ??

The Canadian system has got consistently worse, not better, in the quarter-century since the Liberal Party federal government passed their health care act in 1984. The previous year I blew out a shoulder (A-C joint) in a farming accident. The orthopedist could have scheduled me a surgery in three days, though it would have cost me a “supplement” of about $2000 over what the government system would have paid.

In the event I opted for a cortisone shot to stifle the pain and then had a therapeutic ligament massage specialist from France rebuild the ligament over about six weeks. That cost me $600 out of pocket and the shoulder’s been fine ever since under quite hard use.

That health care act of 1984 was the last straw for most Canadians. In the national election of 04 September 1984 the Liberals were swept from office in the second biggest landslide of Canadian history, and more than a century of Liberal Party stranglehold on Québec flew away in the wind.

Sadly, it was to no effect in health care. A quarter-century later, five months for a woman in severe pain is considered nimble. Canadians have been able to come to the States for treatment, but if this Democrat plan is passed, that option will wither.

Oh, well, there are a few absolutely superb hospitals in India and Thailand, airfare is relatively cheap, and the scenery is much nicer than Bismarck, North Dakota.

September 28, 10:06 am | [comment link]
5. Words Matter wrote:

Well, for those entranced with U.S. health care, a friend told me her private (actually employer-paid) insurance has a $2 million lifetime benefit with a $25,000 annual payout. Do the math. But here’s the real problems: her husband needs a liver transplant. So now talk about government “rationing” of health care.

I don’t think Canadian single-payer health care is the best way to go for the U.S., but the fact is that most Canadians are happy with it. To pluck a sad story out and and indict the whole system with it is profoundly dishonest and invites just the sort of response I have made. We can’t solve our own problems until we address our situation honestly.

September 28, 10:21 am | [comment link]
6. Daniel wrote:

Do we have any hope that the the U.S. government can do anything with health care besides waste money, enable fraud, and over pay lazy bureaucrats like they do with almost everything else they touch.  I just watched my father-in-law die a painful death from esophageal cancer early this Summer, while he was navigating the VA hospital’s health care process.

He was given the initial diagnosis last Labor Day, but had to get some additional testing done before they could decide on the proper course of treatment.  He got his first chemotherapy treatment the week after Christmas.  If this is how government health care works for those already covered in the U.S., I am not very sanguine about the prospect of extending it to all in the U.S.

Just this morning, the news reported a California congressman saying that we should cover all including illegal aliens, because most of the illegal aliens are young and healthy, so they would put more money into the system than they would take out.  Don’t you just love it?!

September 28, 10:55 am | [comment link]
7. John Wilkins wrote:

#6, The government CAN manage it, if people who know how to manage are doing it.  Politicians who are elected on an anti-government platform can’t really be trusted to handle the levers of government, can they?  They don’t believe in it, so they outsource government to their friends.

By and large, people are more satisfied with medicare and the VA than people are with their private insurers.  Add that there is more bureaucracy in private insurance companies than there is in government health care.   

The California congressman is probably correct financially.  Chances are, requiring all workers to pay into the system would increase revenue.  Immigrants, legal and illegal, tend to add value to an economy.    And, being a capitalist, I think that anyone should be able to purchase insurance if they want.

September 28, 11:14 am | [comment link]
8. teatime wrote:

Let’s take Medicare as a microcosm to see where the Obama Administration wants to go. If you are eligible for Medicare you can either accept traditional Medicare, which leaves you with about 20 percent of out-of-pocket expenses per visit/procedure, in most cases, or you can choose a privately offered Medicare Advantage plan, which pays more of the bill (all, in some cases) and offers perks like some dental and vision care and a health club membership. For Medicare Advantage, there is often an additional premium (not always) ranging from about $15 to over $100 (for Cadillac care) per month.
This Administration is clamping down on the private insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage. Recently, they gagged Humana from telling its customers that the health care reform plan in Congress may cut their services (it will). It also wants to cut the incentives that have invited the private companies into the Medicare market.

Now, I’m not a big fan of private health insurance companies BUT I think their participation, which offers a choice to older and disabled Americans, is an important part of the system and one which makes the potential for health-care reform viable. The Obama Administration clearly doesn’t want private options. So, we know what sort of “reform” we’re going to get.

And, as Obama touts access to health care “for all,” it’s not being widely reported that this comes with huge cuts to Medicare. For Medicare patients now, it’s very, very difficult to find primary care doctors who will accept Medicare and the very low reimbursement rates, which this administration wants to cut even more. If that happens, it will be next to impossible to find a PCP. The caring doctors who will continue to accept it will be inundated.

September 28, 12:25 pm | [comment link]
9. Daniel wrote:

Knowing how to manage something and having the incentive to manage it are two entirely different matters.  The main incentive in government is to make sure you spend all the money that has been appropriated to you so you do not lose it when budgets get created for the next fiscal year.  I have personally observed the orgy of spending that gets done at the end of the fiscal year if any funds are left over.  Efficiency and cost effectiveness are rarely important factors, hence the public’s reluctance to keep providing more booze to the drunken sailor of public spending, to loosely paraphrase Ronald Reagan.

September 28, 12:26 pm | [comment link]
10. John Wilkins wrote:

[Comment deleted by Elf - please be careful of accusations of lying or that people have been lied to]

September 28, 4:25 pm | [comment link]
11. Bill C wrote:

Jeremy Bonner, that is quite true.  However, most private HC schemes will not cover pre-existing health issues.  In my case, I found this out when we returned to work in England for a few years, all of the health issues that I needed help with were specifically listed as inapplicable.  On the other hand when we moved back to the States in 2 000, my new employer’s plan covered everything and continues to do so.

The example in this post ought to give those in favour of a national Health Plan pause ... to reconsider.  Christina Woodkey’s problems were experienced by my mother and by my brother-in-law.  In my brother-in-law’s case, he nearly died at the age of 49 despite being a senior surgeon at Derryfield Hospital in Devon, England.  The hospital sent him home ‘to see how he got on’ twice before a heart attack followed the stroke that was his initial complaint.  There are long waiting lists in the UK for serious conditions that are not immediately life-threatening as there are in Canada. 
Health Care in this country does need reform but not, absolutely no, the radical, ill thought-out program for which the funding is as clear as mud, and, in my opinion, defies reality.

September 28, 5:24 pm | [comment link]
12. Bill C wrote:

I would like to add that I am disabled, cannot work and am housebound.  Over the past seven years I have had four extensive and major surgeries, weeks of in-patient occupational and physical therapy and months of out-patient physical therapy.  I have to take about 10 different medications which would cost me about $10 000 to $12 000 out of pocket a year and several thousand dollars a year in equipment and supplies.  I pay nothing for the latter, $40 dollars a year for the medications, my surgeries were 100% covered (except for one -which was 80% covered).  I consider myself blessed to have such coverage but whatever coverage a national health program would provide, I very much doubt it would cover anything near the coverage I have.  A NHP might provide me with an assisted death doctor to advise me -as occurred in Oregon recently to a woman with cancer who has, I believe, since died.

September 28, 5:38 pm | [comment link]
13. Ad Orientem wrote:

Canada’s system is a good example of the dangers involved in going to extremes.  I favor some sort of national health insurance.  But I also believe the best way to go about it is to have a hybrid system of both public and private insurance.  Most countries (even those with a single payer system) permit private health insurance.  Some, such as France, virtually mandate private supplementary insurance. 

This seems like a very sensible way of dealing with routine (non-emergency) medical issues that would otherwise result in moderate to serious waits in a government only system.  It also helps keep the costs to the tax payers in check.  Based on statistical analysis (overall health versus per capita expenditures on health care and rankings from WHO and the International Red Cross) such systems seem to be more effective than all private or all public systems.

That said I do favor a single payer health insurance system to provide basic coverage to everyone and ensure that no one is bankrupted by bills resulting from a serious or catastrophic medical event.


September 28, 6:28 pm | [comment link]
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