Friday, August 15, 2008
Lisa from Brass and Ivory posed a question in her comments section to me about my experiences with health care and insurance in Canada. Because we have universal health care in this country we often don't think about what an illness can do to families financially. This is much more evident in the US but it does affect Canadians as well.
My mother was quite ill when she was pregnant with me. I wasn't a very good guest apparently. As a result of not being able to keep anything down and the threat of miscarriage a few times, when mom went into labour, the specialists were called in to help with the delivery and to care for what they thought was to be a tiny baby. The minute I was born, they wheeled the incubator out of the room and the specialists all started to leave. Mom asked where everyone was going. She was told they weren't needed as I was big and healthy (and screaming), at 7 pounds, 14 ounces.
My father is fond of reminding me it took them 3 years to pay for my birth because of the precautions needed and the specialists required to be there. I never understood that statement until I was a teenager and learned about our health care system. Canada has only had universal health care since the mid '60s (I was born in '63). Yes, they had insurance, but that only covers so much. My parents have been adamant over the years that I have insurance for everything, and I do.
I have been a consumer of health care since before I was born. All the usual childhood diseases, tonsils came out at 10, occasional trips to emergency for sprains, stitches, etc., regular doctor visits (they now call them "well woman" visits instead of paps), irregular doctor visits for severe colds or flus, MS onset and diagnosis and most recently my surgery for ovarian cysts (I can't imagine the costs associated with that whole experience).
If I added the costs of my health care together, I'm sure I'd be at the million dollar mark by now. But it has basically only cost me parking. And the occasional over the counter medicine.
When the MS diagnosis came along, I signed up for the Avonex drug study. For the duration of the study, the drug company, Avonex was going to cover the costs associated with the study: MRIs, blood work, etc. That was for almost two years. Then after the study, my insurance at work covered the prescription. But it would only do so for two years. This was in the midst of lobbying the various provincial governments to cover the enormous expense of the DMDs. Nova Scotia came on board with the plan around that time along with New Brunswick a few years later and eventually Newfoundland and Labrador. The rest of the country had already covered the drugs.
I get my prescription for Avonex filled every three months. I call the hospital pharmacy, give them my ID number and go pick it up the next day. They send me a bill for $9.54 for "dispensing fees" or some such thing and that's it. So for about $40 a year and parking I get Avonex. In September it will be 9 years that I've been on this drug. Since diagnosis I haven't missed any work because of MS. I have worked full time for the past 8 years (I was part time for several years before that), volunteered, and in general contributed to society (and to the government coffers).
A lot of folks complain about the government's take of income tax. I understand their frustration as I used to be one of them. But not now. I know why I pay taxes and my health is to show for it. I also sock away as much money as I can for retirement because I know that my retirement may one day be forced on me because of the MS.
I have repeatedly said over the years that I am one lucky duck. Not everyone can say that. Some folks may not be working full time or have full health coverage for other prescriptions or they may not be working at all. They may not be living where they want because of financial strains. Maybe they were the sole breadwinner before disability and can now no longer afford to look after their families the way they had been. Whatever the case, even in Canada, getting sick can cause great financial hardship, though it may not be because of the cost of the actual health care.
The Wookie moved to Canada from southern California when he was a teenager. His father (now semi retired) became a professor at one of the universities here. A few years after they had moved here, the Wookie's youngest brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Sadly, it was discovered too late and he passed away, but not before undergoing surgery and treatment. Both parents were working professionals but admitted that if they had still been in the US, the brother's medical care would have bankrupted them.
We have wonderful care in this country, wonderful doctors, and wonderful facilities. We also have problems with our medical system that we're trying to work out. The biggest complaint people have is wait times for tests or to see specialists. If your condition is emergent you will be seen and assessed quickly. If it turns out that you don't need emergent treatment, well, you'll wait...
Over the past several years I have watched walk-in medical clinics open up to help ease the strain on emergency departments. There is a shortage of family doctors and as a result, longer waits to see one even if you have one. That's part of what was driving folks to the EDs. The other part is that many people aren't proactive enough with their health, engaging in risky behaviour, not following doctors' advice , that sort of thing. The government and our doctors are not responsible for our health. We are. And we have to educate ourselves about...ourselves. We must become more knowledgeable about our health, we must lead healthier lives, and we must not take for granted the great things we already have.
PS:Lisa, I guess I could have contributed to the Carnival this week after all. Hope that answers some of what you were wondering about.