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Yes Canada, I prefer American healthcare

By Pete Vere
web posted September 1, 2003

My father was aghast. While discussing my wife's current pregnancy, our second, I told him that under our current health insurance plan, my wife and I would be responsible for somewhere between a thousand and two thousand dollars as our portion of the medical bill. "You pay thousands of dollars a year for family coverage in Florida," he said "And they still make you pay? Can't you just come home to Canada?"

Even if I could, I likely would not. From a purely financial perspective, good health coverage in the United States is still cheaper for my family. Of course, my father's perception of American healthcare is no different from that of most Canadians. In fact, it is no different than my own tainted opinion of American healthcare before our family moved south of the 49th parallel. The Canadian media simply demonizes American healthcare at every opportunity.

Yet Canadians forget that our universal health system is not free; it comes from the high taxes our government collects. In contrast, I pay no Florida state income tax under Governor Jeb Bush. And what about President George W. Bush, the Governor's brother, who recently lowered my federal tax rate? Dare I mention that before President Bush's tax cuts, I still paid a lot less in taxes each year than what my best friend and former accountant from back home tells me I would have paid as a Canadian resident under Jean Chretien's regime?

Now add the fact my wife is a stay at home mother and the U.S. tax code permits joint tax returns for married couple. In contrast, as many Canadian social conservatives so aptly point out, the Canadian tax code penalizes married couples. And the premiums I pay for family health coverage in the United States are deducted from my taxable income. Thus when my wife and I add up what we pay each year in taxes, health insurance premiums and deductibles for medical services, we would pay more in taxes if we still lived in the Dominion of Socialized Healthcare.

Yet healthcare is not merely a matter of finances. While this may shock many of my fellow Canadians – as both our government and our popular media constantly lead us to believe otherwise – the quality of American healthcare is noticeably superior to what our family previously experienced in Canada. Please do not misconstrue this observation as an insult toward the men and women who tirelessly serve within Canada's healthcare system. I would never suggest that these folks are to blame, or that they are less capable in their training than their American counterparts.

Nevertheless, these good nurses and doctors can only work with the technology to which they have access. From my experience with both healthcare systems, American medical technology is both more advanced and more readily available. And one must also assume the availability of such qualified medical professionals. In reality, Canada's socialized healthcare system is notoriously understaffed. American healthcare professionals, on the other hand, are also more accessible.

This last point hit home the first time we brought our oldest daughter back to Canada for a family visit. As far as numbers are concerned, our hometown is similar in population to where we live now. The climate is much colder, however, and our daughter came down with something while visiting my parents. So we brought our daughter to the local walk-in clinic.

The experience was typical of most of my previous experiences growing up in Canada under socialized healthcare. After a three-and-half-hour wait in a small room overcrowded with sick children, we finally saw the lone doctor on staff that evening. The examination room was no where as spacious as what I had become accustomed to in the United States, and even more tellingly, no where nearly as well equipped. Unlike my previous experiences growing up in Canada, now that I had tasted American healthcare both the wait and the quality of service seemed unbearable. In the United States, I have never waited longer than fifteen minutes when visiting a healthcare provider. Over the next few days, my wife and I wondered whether spending nearly four hours in a closely confined space with other sick children would make our daughter's condition worse.

Yet this incident is nowhere as egregious as that of a relative of mine. Speaking of the cost of healthcare, he spent over a year on Worker's Compensation as he waited for the necessary surgery to get him back to work – surgery that would have taken less than a month to schedule in any American city where I have lived. Only one full-time medical specialist, assisted by a part-time out-of-towner, practiced in my relative's community. This medium-sized city on the Canadian side of the border required six of these types of medical specialists Had my relative lived across the river, he would have been back to work and paying taxes in no time. Instead, he collected from the government for over a year as he waited for the necessary operation. His patience was not even rewarded with a private room during his stay in the hospital.

The difference in quality even extends to dentistry. My wife's last root canal was literally painless. Again, this says something about the quality of American medical technology. Yet a more recent example comes to mind with my wife's ultrasound in Sarasota. A little over three years' ago, my wife had gone for a similar ultrasound in Ottawa when we were expecting our first child. The contrast could not differ more. Unlike our experience in Canada's capital, our experience in this medium-sized American city involved little waiting in the waiting room. The ultrasound technology allowed us to clearly identify our daughter in the womb without being medical experts, and the technology allowed the medical staff to manipulate the monitor quite easily in order to obtain the necessary measurements. With my oldest daughter, on the other hand, the ultrasound was often delayed as the medical staff waited for her to get into the proper position. Afterward, my wife and I compared the photo print-outs of the two ultrasounds. We could not help but notice that the Sarasota prints were larger, glossier, and clearer.

In the end, I suppose the above represents only the anecdotal evidence of one Canadian family now living in the United States of America because of what our current prime minister considers a fictitious brain drain. Certainly American healthcare is not without its problems; yet these problems are nowhere as serious as the Canadian political and media establishment would lead us to believe. Having now experienced the healthcare system in both countries, I prefer the American when given the choice.

Yet I cannot but wonder why the superior quality of American healthcare is kept secret when comparing the two systems. Like individuals, a healthcare system will succeed or fail based upon its own merit. When a healthcare system begins to fail, we must examine it honestly and ask tough questions. This par for the course in the United State where a public debate now rages over the escalating costs of prescription drugs as well as tort reform and medical malpractice premiums. Yet in Canada such a candid self-examination remains taboo. Our Canadian cultural and political elite prefer demonizing the healthcare system south of the border to acknowledging the growing failures of socialized healthcare at home. Until this problem is acknowledged, it cannot be fixed. Hence the reason this Canadian does not mind making due with American healthcare.

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Nokomis, Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

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