Canadian Medical Care–A Personal Story

Not mine, but a local person. . . I was cleaning out old emails and ran across this, a Canadian’s statement in response to false information about the Canadian system and comparison with the US.  I think many of you might find it interesting. The big fight is not over. The Rethuglicans are going to continue fighting for the welfare of the big insurance industry however the election turns out. You will still hear about the failings of the “socialist” medical care in Canada. It just ain’t so. (There is no source link as this came from my friend here in San Rafael, CA and was only sent to those of us in Health Care for All–Marin chapter.)

You can watch the April 15th hearing at which Sen. Mark Leno introduced SB 810 to the Senate Health Comm. at Most striking were the falsities regarding the Canadian health care system proclaimed by Sen. Sam Aanestad (R. of Grass Valley), who sits on the committee. My next-door neighbor, a Canadian, was outraged and wrote this response.


I really don’t know where to start.  The many statements of the doctor from Grass Valley about the Canadian health care system were not backed up with any sources or publications.  He got everything upside down, like  Alice in Wonderland. Here’s my experience:

In Canada, our main opposition when our medicare system was instituted was the medical community; the insurance companies had not become all- powerful. There are now more US doctors moving to Canada than Canadian doctors moving to the US. Canadians love our health care system. It is not perfect, but I think it does work.  No pols would change it for fear of the wrath of Canadian voters.  Five years ago, Tommy Douglas, the father of the healthcare plan, was voted the greatest Canadian of all time.  The system has changed because recently there was a successful court case allowing parallel private health care.  There are now private clinics (a recent development) that are paid for by insurance companies.  Everyone still pays for public health but can opt to also have private insurance (though very few do). This is somewhat like sending one’s child to a private school or having a private security system at your house.  Taxes still cover general schooling and police protection, but if you want more, you’re welcome to pay for it.  In Canada, doctors cannot practice in the public health system if they do private medicine.

I have had breast cancer and was treated in Montreal and had the cancer recur last year while living in California.  That women of 40 cannot get mammograms and women over 50 only every 2 years, as Sen. Aanestad claimed, is simply not true. The medical board encourages women of 50 to get a mammogram at least every 2 years.  More tests are given as doctors deem necessary. Any woman of any age can get as many mammos as her doctor thinks she needs.  There is absolutely no rationing.  My sister had breast cancer  (well treated in Alberta) and as I was at high risk I had mammograms in my 30s and ever after.

When I was in Canada,  I developed a lump and my cancer was not very visible on mammogram.  When they discovered something on the mammo that the radiologist did not like, I had an ultrasound  on the very same day.  As this was a Friday and late afternoon,  the biopsy had to wait until Monday.  It took 10 days for the biopsy results and then there was a two-week wait because of the Christmas – New Year’s holiday.  I had my mastectomy on Jan. 5  2004.  This was followed by chemo.  I chose my surgeon, oncologist, radiologist from all the doctors in Quebec.  I liked the idea of a University hospital and was promptly treated at McGill.  After surgery my oncologist prescribed the needed tests, bone scan, emi scan and MRI.  These were done immediately and I started Chemo.  During Chemo I had blood tests before every treatment and my tumour markers were monitored.  I saw my oncologist at every treatment and my surgeon every three months. I had a breast exam at all these appointments,  My treatment was orchestrated by the doctors and they managed my care.  After chemo I had a PET scan and after good results all round, I saw my oncologist and surgeon once a year, one every six months. I had ultrasounds every 6 months. Because my breasts are dense, ultrasound was considered a better diagnostic tool.  I had mammograms every year and a breast MRI every year. Every time time I had a radiological appointment, the doctor examined me.  I was also examined by the oncologist and surgeon at every meeting.

When I moved to Marin, we were covered by Kaiser.  I saw a family doctor, oncologist and OB/GYN.  I saw the family doctor and genealogist once but see my oncologist frequently because of the treatment I’m receiving.  Tumour markers are not followed, but I finally got my Doctor to agree to test them.  They were much higher at the first test than they had ever been.

We continued testing every six months to be sure there was no error,  As the markers went up and up everyone became alarmed. I requested a PET scan and my MD said he could not justify it.  This was a phrase I had never heard in Canada.  After I broke a rib I got my PET scan, and it revealed boney metastases.  These were promptly treated with radiation and my markers are great and I am feeling very well. Kaiser has refused to do ultrasound but I get a Mammogram every two years.  They have no machine for breast MRI. I have never seen the radiologist who has decided mammograms are adequate.  My oncologist has not examined me in 18 months.  But I am getting the treatment my doctor in Canada recommended and my California doctor agreed to.

Where is the rationing?  I had never encountered these problems in Quebec.  I have never had to know so much about my own illness (I am not an MD) and be such an advocate for my own case.

Where this man [Sen. Aanestad] got his information is beyond me.  And I cannot believe that 3 times as many people die of breast cancer in Canada and the US has the best survival record.  Show me the research.

As for the other outrageous statements:  I worked almost 40 years as a physical therapist.  I have treated thousands of hip and knee replacement patients.  Most knee replacements were in older people as the longevity of these joints is a consideration.  Replacements of prostheses leads to great difficulties. Most orthopaedists try to have their patients wait until their mid 60s or 70s.  That one can’t get a knee replacement after 62 is preposterous.   I know of no one who ever waited 22 months for an MRI.  The machines run 24/7. I, my father, all my friends who needed MRIs got them promptly.  A 62-year-old friend just had a hip replacement done in Quebec, almost no waiting time, and the prosthesis was entirely ceramic. This type of replacement joint is considered the most durable and is still not available in the US. My son is an orthopaedist in Iowa and bemoans the fact that he cannot use total ceramic hip replacements.

I have had good care here but the care in Quebec was much better.  The cost here is much higher, for me,  than the  taxes I was paying.  When I was earning a high salary I paid high taxes for universal medicare. When I became ill and could not work, I paid nothing and got excellent care.  As I get older and sicker, my costs rise in the US.  My copays alone this past year were $4000.  I don’t get the choice or quality of treatment I did in Quebec and feel lucky to get any insurance at all.  This is completely counter to what I expect of a civilised society.  Civil society means caring for each other.

Miriam Schubert
San Rafael


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