A Canadian discusses health-care issues

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

By Glenn Proctor

Being a Canadian with a green card soon to be issued, I have watched with interest the U.S. political primaries leading to the election later this year. I have heard and read about politicians promoting the concept of universal health care.

My wife's current employer changed its medical coverage, because the insurance company wanted to increase the cost 84 percent to provide what I consider to be inferior coverage.

The question I have to ask: Has the American public really considered the cost of true universal coverage?

Since the Canadian and U.S. dollars are almost at par with each other, I thought it would be advantageous to review some of the costs we Canadians currently bear to have such coverage. I will compare the prices here to those in Canada for products available in both countries.

To cover the costs of medical care, Canada taxes "sin" products to the hilt. A carton of Camel cigarettes runs between $25 and $35 here in Jackson. In Canada, a carton of the same U.S.-made cigarettes will cost you $110. Canadian cigarettes run around $77 to $80 a carton. A 1.73-liter bottle of Canada Mist, which is imported from Canada, sells here for anywhere from $14.99 to $21.99. In British Columbia, the current cost is $47.95. Beer is taxed in the same manner. A six-pack of Labbat's Blue costs 6.99 here. In Canada the cost is around $12.

Another comparison is the price of gasoline. Gas here is running around $2.99 a gallon. Where I lived in Canada — British Columbia — gas currently costs around $4.30 a gallon.

Most provinces in Canada have a medical-services surcharge for every family residing in the province. In British Columbia, for example, a family — regardless of the number of children, would pay around $90 a month. In British Columbia, we have unlimited, fully paid coverage with no co-payment required. But you must understand that hospitals are not privately owned. They are owned by the province. They are not like hospitals here that are answerable to shareholders and investors.

Doctors in Canada have their own medical unions. Every few years, the union has to negotiate a new price structure. Currently doctors in British Columbia are paid $35 for a 15-minute appointment. That's it. All tests, X-rays and blood tests are fulling paid for under the medical coverage. Doctors' prescriptions are also covered, but with a $200-a-year deductible. In other words, each family has to pay the first $200 of coverage out of their own pockets.

Yes, there are waiting lines for what can be considered an elective surgery. Sometime that can take up to six or eight months. In most areas, though, the waiting time is not that big a problem.

Our tax rate on wages is not really that much different from here when you add it all in: state and federal compared to provincial and federal.

The biggest difference I see outside of money issues is the attitude of the medical profession in general. For example, my wife had an abscessed tooth. When she called the dentist she had been seeing for 20-some years, she was told by the person handling the calls that she had not been in to see the doctor in over a year and a half, and her request for medication would not be granted until she could get in for an appointment, because she was no longer considered a current client.

In other words, because she was not spending money in that doctor's office on a regular basis, her needs would not be considered.

If the dental board in Canada were informed of the conduct of the employee, the dentist would be facing a hearing to revoke his license.

Yes, I pay my medical premiums back home. If I get sick, guess where I am heading.

Glenn Proctor resides in Jackson.

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