Stayin’ Alive

I really should stop watching American news. I get teevee-yelly. I know I’m not going to change anybody’s mind with this post, but the cat’s getting really skittery with all the shouting going on around here, so I’m just going to say a few things. I want to make it clear that I am talking about socialised medicine here, and I’m only talking about the kind of “medicare” with which I have experience. That being Canadian medicare.

In Canada, we don’t pay up front when we see the doctor. We can go for our annual physicals or we can drop in to a clinic to have a nasty cough checked out, and we don’t have to fill out financial forms. We don’t have to take out our major credit card. We show the receptionist our provincial health card, we get our medical consultation or examination, and we go on our merry way. We may get a prescription, or a prescription renewal. We may receive treatment options. We may just receive a reassuring pat on the shoulder and get told there’s nothing wrong and that we’re in the peak of health.

Doctors’ practices are private businesses.  They pay the overhead costs on their facilities, including rent, utilities, licensing, etc.. Their salaries are paid by the government, and are based on the number of patients they see.

We DO have to pay for our prescriptions, for elective surgeries, and for certain specialised kinds of treatment like dental care, eye examinations (performed by Optometrists), Naturopathy/non-traditional health care (including acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care).

Myths About Socialised Medicine:

  • The government tells you which doctor(s) to go to

In the entire time I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a country with medicare (socialised medical care), the government has never once telephoned me and provided me with a list of doctors from which I may choose for care. I kind of wish they would. I find it really distressing to interview and assess new General Practitioners/Family Doctors.

  • Doctors won’t work if they can’t set their own fees

This was a huge argument against socialised medicine when Tommy Douglas first introduced it. People were CONVINCED all the doctors would leave the country. Turns out they were wrong. We have lots of doctors in Canada.

  • It costs more (or less)

Health care costs are roughly the same, regardless of where the services are provided. The difference is who pays those costs up front. With socialised medicine, every citizen contributes to the cost of health care through their taxes, and therefore many services do not require up-front payment.

  • More (or less) bureaucracy

I think there’s about the same amount of bureaucracy involved in any mass-services system, whether it’s health care, education, government services, etc.. I’m fairly confident there is more red tape in government than there is in health care, but that’s just an uneducated guess.

  • Medical care is free

Medical care is never free. In Canada, we pay, through our income taxes, for our medical services. The theory here is that if everyone contributes a little, the majority of people will benefit. Yes, this means your tax dollars are being used to treat the unemployed homeless addict who shot up bad drugs. It also means your tax dollars are being used to treat the person who was injured by police while robbing a convenience store. It also means your tax dollars are being used to treat the police officer who was wounded in the line of fire, and your son or daughter who has unexplained and recurring fevers, and your mum or dad or grandparents who are retired and develop complications from diabetes or brain cancer. It also means your tax dollars are being used to care for your boyfriend who has been in a medically induced coma since suffering a brain haemorrhage in Mexico.

  • All doctors’ treatments are covered

Most elective surgeries are not covered. Some specialists’ treatment is not covered. Drug costs are not covered (for most Canadians). Massage and alternative treatments are not covered. Dentistry is not covered. Visual care is not covered. Lots of things aren’t covered. But general health care and treatment *is* covered.

  • Drugs are free

Man, I wish.

  • You have to wait a really long time to see a doctor

In general, you may have to wait a month to a half year for your annual physical examination. If you’re clever and book them annually, you’re fine. If you need to see a doctor because you have an emergency, you don’t have to wait any longer than anyone else would in any other private system (except, I guess, for, like, Donald Trump who probably has his own emergency hair health care facility on speed dial in his private helicopter. For most people who don’t have bribe money hanging out of their underdrawers, the wait time is about the same). In some cases, it takes a long time to see a specialist. But in most cases, that isn’t true. If Dr. Oz were practicing in Canada, it would take a really long time to see him because he’s famous.

You know that I’m a crunchy left-wing socialist. So it will come as no surprise to you that I am GLAD to pay for your health care. And yours, and yours, and yours. It pleases me that I can help you if you need me to. It doesn’t bother me that homeless people and poor people and immigrants and drunks and whores get the same treatment that the Premier gets. In fact, I find that reassuring. Because in the end, it’s my belief that socialised medicine works on the principle that patients are people first, and class or status doesn’t come in to the equation.

Sure, there’s a double standard here. I know that people can pay to jump the queue for testing if they have the money to pay for private tests to be done in other jurisdictions. I know that people can pay for their treatment in other places if they wish to. That’s their choice, of course, and I haven’t decided whether those costs ought to be reimbursed. Probably they should be. The most important thing is that people who DO NOT have that option still get treatment.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. One of the highlights for me arising from the “Queue Jumping Inquiry” in Alberta surrounds private testing. Patients are put in the queue for surgery based on severity of illness, however they are not placed in the queue until test results are in and their doc can make the decision to put them in that queue.

    If Bob pays to have an MRI tomorrow, his doctor has his results next week, and he’ll be in the public surgical queue faster than Bill who must wait four months for his MRI through the public system. Bob has effectively jumped the queue by four months by paying to have an MRI.

    I wish everyone on earth had socialised medicine so that one accident, one diagnosis, one illness would never ever destroy anyone’s financial and emotional health.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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