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The Good Side of the Canadian Healthcare System

Baby Socks, Ottawa, September 2012

I feel more Socialist than ever and this is not a side effect of pregnancy.

Do you know why?

Because so far, I’ve had four ultrasounds, a bunch of blood tests, the Integrated Test, two appointments with a GP at the University of Ottawa Health Services and countless appointments (seven, eight…?) with an ob-gyn at the hospital. And so far, I have paid exactly zero dollars. Nada, niente, nothing.

Oh yeah, sorry—I did spend less than $10 in total to get copies of the “aww-so-cute” ultrasound pictures (aka the indecipherable inside of my uterus in black and white). It hardly bankrupted us, though.

The Canadian healthcare system isn’t perfect but this year, I’m a grateful patient and an even more grateful taxpayer.

See, Feng and I are both self-employed. We do make an honest living but we have no social benefits. In Canada, this term (often shortened as “benefits”) encompasses all the “perks” some employees can get as part of their employment package, such as health programs with subsidized dental and vision care, prescription drug coverage, etc. You can see examples of typical benefits federal government employees can receive on the Canada Benefits website.

The irony is, I was eligible for such benefits when I was working at the House of Commons and then at Canada Post. But I quit my job last December for a freelance career and I lost my benefits.

And of course, I got pregnant a month later. I’ve always had a knack for timing.

Yet the news didn’t prompt me to beg for my old job back or to look for another full-time position with benefits. We figure we’d be okay because in Canada, unlike in the U.S., most of our health care needs are taken care of by the provincial health insurance, OHIP in Ontario.

As Ontario residents and Canadian citizens, Feng and I are both eligible for provincially funded health coverage and entitled to health care services paid for by OHIP. All my pregnancy-related needs, prenatal and postnatal, are covered, as long as they are medically necessary (i.e. one of these freaky 3D ultrasounds wouldn’t be covered).

Every time I go to an appointment, all I have to do is to show my health care card and the provider bill OHIP directly. I never have to open my wallet—there are no deductibles and no co-pay.

We don’t even need private insurance. Sure, we have to pay for prescriptions if any (still affordable, drug prices are negotiated with suppliers by the federal government to control costs) and I am not eligible for maternity leave as a freelancer (which is okay, because my neurons need to work and I can have a flexible schedule). I don’t get subsidized massage therapy (government employees do!) and if the kid needs glasses, well we will pay for them. Life ain’t bad, trust me.

We won’t lose sleep over insanely-high medical bills because our basic healthcare needs will always be covered, regardless of our employment status. In Canada, there are no lifetime limits or exclusions for pre-existing conditions. I can access plenty of health-related services for free at the point of use, and I feel well taken care of.

Having a baby without OHIP coverage would have been a very stressful experience. Prospective immigrants sometimes ask whether it’s best to give birth in their home country or in Canada even before they are permanent residents and eligible for OHIP, and I personally wouldn’t recommend them to do so. Pregnancy-related care is expensive. You can see a list of fees healthcare professionals charge OHIP here (rather technical but it’s a good example of how much healthcare services cost).

I often hear terrible stories from our Southern neighbours who can face huge medical bills if they don’t have good private insurance. And even when they do, they sometimes have to fight with it for coverage.

None of this bullshit here.

Except for my first couple of years in Canada when I was really poor and working part-time, I have been paying income taxes here for about six years. And I’m very happy I do because I’m contributing to funding the health care system and other social programs I believe in.

Today, I’m a grateful recipient. Thank you, Canada. One less thing to stress about. Now I can focus on boosting the country’s birth rate.


French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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