Why you should have your heart attack in Canada

As much as I’ve tried so far to keep my nose out of the health care reform circus that’s happening with our dear neighbours to the south, I can’t resist sharing a wee dose of reality from Canada (also known to some Americans as “Commie Pinko Land of Socialized Medicine”).

A piece in the Washington Post reminded me this week that, in other democracies of the developed world, patients are somehow receiving medical care that is not only universal, it’s actually considered better and cheaper than care in America.

In fact, the World Health Organization now ranks the U.S. 37th in the world in terms of quality health care access. American infant mortality rates (an oft-quoted criterion for how well countries are caring for their citizens) are double those of most Western countries. Almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does.

The U.S. health care system forces over 700,000 Americans to declare bankruptcy every year.  In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero. Canada: zero. Yet I’ve actually read warnings from U.S. health reform opponents that reform will somehow mean a slippery slope towards the ‘horrors of Canadian medicine”. Seriously.

Tommy Douglas 1The horrors of Canadian medicine?  They must be talking about the other Canada, the one I’ve never been to. The Canada I’ve actually known all my life has had universal health care ever since the days of Tommy Douglas, the prairie preacher from Saskatchewan and our iconic ‘Father of Medicare’. Tommy first introduced a universal hospital insurance program to his province in 1947 when he was the premier of Saskatchewan. His government then introduced the first public health care program in 1962. (Interestingly, Saskatchewan doctors walked out in protest fearing their incomes would be reduced, but the strike collapsed after three weeks).

Many doctors  – particularly those running the Canadian Medical Association who own for-profit medical imaging labs – are still known to loudly favour a move to America-style privately-delivered health care in Canada, even though over 85% of Canadians report satisfaction with our current public health care system.

But I digress . . .

Back in 1966, the Canadian government followed its prairie province’s lead with a national health plan in which all citizens would receive portable, comprehensive and universal access to necessary physician and hospital services, regardless of their ability to pay.

Canadians do love our universal health care concept;  in 2004, a nationally televised CBC contest named Tommy Douglas The Greatest Canadian of all time.

As a result of Tommy’s vision of government-funded medical care for all, my recent heart attack and subsequent medical care in a world-class heart institute here cost me not one penny.  I paid nothing for my E.R. visits, all cardiac tests and procedures, medical and nursing care, all drugs while in hospital, my stay in the Coronary Care Unit, hospital bed, and all follow-up visits with my cardiologist and other specialists.  And I will never get a bill for any of this truly outstanding cardiac care.

Even though I had a heart attack, I will never lose my home, my business, have an insurance company deny my claims, worry that my heart attack now means a pre-existing condition that makes me ineligible for any future care, declare bankruptcy due to crushing medical debt, or have a collection agency at the door because I haven’t paid the hospital bills from my last cardiac event.

All of these things have happened to heart patients I know in the U.S.  Our Canadian health care system is certainly not perfect, very far from it – but I can’t even imagine trading it for the nightmares listed above that my American heart sisters have told me about their own health care.

Former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid appears to agree with me.

He decided to travel the world from Oslo to Osaka to investigate how other developed democracies provide health care to their citizens. He explained:

“Foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people’s medical bills, not to make a profit.

“The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage. Instead of dismissing foreign health care models as ‘socialist’, we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems.”

But to do that, he claims, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:

  • It’s all socialized medicine out there.
  • Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.
  • Foreign health care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.
  • Cost controls stifle innovation.
  • Health insurance has to be cruel.”

Wrong, all wrong, according to Reid. If you’re interested in the facts – instead of hysterical town hall fear-mongering –  learn how these five myths are exploded in T.R. Reid’s eye-opening article called Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World.  

Also read Bob Hepburn‘s article in the Toronto Star:  Why I’d Rather Be Sick Here Than in the U.S.

See also: Where Would You Rather Get Sick? In the U.S. or in Canada?


6 thoughts on “Why you should have your heart attack in Canada

  1. Remember, nothing in Canada is free…. you pay a yearly amount towards healthcare off your paychecks….. then you have to carry $$$ medical insurance for prescription drugs and extra costs…. Oh, you didn’t know there are extra costs? That Heart-Attack ER & Surgery was covered, but what about rehabilitation? Medication? out of pocket… Broken Leg… that cast & crutches or wheelchair… are going to cost you too….. Car accident & need to learn how to walk again? Yep you guessed it…. Canada Healthcare doesn’t cover that either…..

    One of the hallmarks of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law in March 2010 is the elimination of pre-existing condition.

    So many Canadians have no idea the differences between American & Canadian Healthcare. Canadians think it’s all free here and Americans get left outside the hospital door if they have no insurance. Such socialized propaganda…..

    I am not in the health profession in fact I am disabled. I have experienced both American & Canadian systems first hand as a patient. I have walked into a ER in respiratory distress due to asthma, announced I was uninsured and yet was treated as if nothing mattered. I was hospitalized for 8 days, bill totaled just over $9,000. On the day of my discharge, I informed the billing manager I was self pay, the bill was reduced to $1,150 & 2 years to pay off.

    In Canada I found myself once again in respiratory distress…. it took 45 mins just to speak to the triage nurse, only to get yelled at for waiting too long to come in. No little curtain space, just a chair half in the hallway…. was set up with a breathing treatment lasting 3 hours. No blood work, no x-rays (pneumonia) nothing. After the 4th hour, given high dose steroid and sent home…. That’s FREE healthcare…. You get what you pay for…

    I drove 50 mins to the border, walked into USA ER and was hospitalized for 4 days for complications with asthma & pneumonia.

    Thanks for listening to me banter and sorry for any typeo’s or auto-correct booboos 😀

    I just think People should know…..


  2. Thanks for this – especially for sharing TR Reid’s excellent article near the end of your post. American health care apologists should read this so they’ll actually have some facts to discredit their illogical criticisms of Cdn health care. I have decades of nursing experience in American hospitals/care homes and I can tell you that the U.S. system has truly devastated countless families financially.

    Well done.


  3. This should be compulsory reading for all those fear-mongering citizens who warn us that we’ll all end up with horrible health care such as that found in Canada, that “commie pinko land of socialized medicine”. You wonder if these fear-mongerers have ever met a real live Canadian so they could actually learn something. Thanks very much for being that person for so many of us.


  4. I’ve experienced both sides of this debate: I’m an American who has been living and working in Canada for the past decade. There’s no comparison, you cannot describe the relief of just “showing up” at the doctor’s office in Canada when you need to without worrying about co-pays, insurance approvals, huge hospital bills that can wipe out a family financially (I know this from painful personal experience) and collection agencies or the fear of medical bankruptcy. You’re right, its not perfect but Canadian health care is pretty darn close to whatever IS perfect. You don’t know how lucky you are here.


  5. I wish I’d been in Canada when I had my own heart attack (caused by SCAD spontaneous coronary artery dissection).Thanks for this…


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