Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Canadian Universal Health Insurance: the Common Prenotations

During the many years I've been an professional insurance broker, I've had more than enough of occasions to answer questions concerning the ups and downs of both the US and Canadian health care system. Although non of them is hundred per cent, I absolutely hate some of the lies that are spread about the Canadian system. Let's have a look at some of them.

"The health system in Canada is much more expensive than the system in the USA."

To begin with, there's this faulty assumption about the cost. It is often claimed that the Canadian system costs more than the US system, but in fact while Canada spends only 10% of its GDP, covering 100 percent of its population, the USA spends over 15 percent GDP, while at least 15 percent of Americans is not covered at all and even more Americans are left with not enough coverage. For example in 2005, the US government spent US$6,401 per capita on their health expenditures - that's almost twice the sum spent in Canada that year - US$3,359. (picture:pills by erix!)

"In Canada, it's up to the administration to make a decision who gets the treatment."

That's totally wrong: the only people in charge of these decisions are in fact the physicians. On the other hand, the situation is quite different in the States, where in fact it is up to your insurance administrators to determine what treatment you are allowed to get, never mind what you doctor thinks.

"The plan only covers the bare basics, so you end up paying a lot on any extras anyway."

Every province has its own rules concerning what is and what is not included by the public health insurance. The least you can count on is that the physician's fees and all the hospital procedures will be included in the insurance - which are generally the most costly items. Other stuff like medical equipment, dental & vision care would generally not be included. Because it's not too hard to average the cost of these extras, since all those big troublesome items are already covered by the national health insurance, number of insurance companies offers some additional low premium insurance that takes care of all these extras. For example the FlexCare Program from Manulife. All in all, to get the same level of service in the USA as in Canada, the Americans have to pay much much more. The system is simply running better in Canada.

"The biggest problem with the Canadian system are the long waits. In fact, Canadians rather travel to the US for their treatment."

The situation doesn't differ that much from the one in the States, because the waits associated with some specialist treatments (up to four weeks some selective surgery takes even longer. On the other hand, all urgent treatment, you will get it fast one way or the other. And, unlike in the US, noone cares whether you're rich or poor. For example, if you cannot get urgent care you need (i.e. surgery) and you cannot get it as fast as it is medically required, you will most likely be sent to the US - at the expense of the state insurance. If you spoke to a Canadian who rushed to the the US for their treatment and had to pay for it themselves, they most likely didn't need the treatment as fast as they wanted it.

"In Canada, the physicians work for the government. Also, you've no choice: you get your physicians picked by the government!"

Not true. The provincial government doesn’t act as an employer, since the physicians in Canada own their private practises just like their colleagues in the States, but constitutes the only insurer that the physicians have to deal with, therefore the paperwork is kept to the necessary minimum. Don't worry: you get to choose your doctor yourself.