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Feb-10-2010 00:49printcomments

The Canadian Health Care Edge

About 41,000 Canadians a year go south for medical care; a tiny fraction of the millions who stay in Canada.

Canadian flag from Michael Moore's movie
Courtesy: Michael Moore's movie "Sicko"

(CALGARY, Alberta) - Danny Williams, conservative Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, is a multi-millionaire who used his wealth to fly to an unknown U.S. location for an unknown cardiac procedure done on February 4.

The populist Newfoundland and Labrador premier has been a vigorous defender of the public system so it’s not known why he went to the U.S. More advanced procedures are probably not available in his home province, but they almost certainly are in Ottawa or Toronto and other locations in Canada.

Fox news as well as the Fraser Institute in Canada have predictably jumped on the Williams’ case as an example of an ailing or failing public health system in Canada. “This should be a wake-up call to Congress and the administration,” said a Fox News medical commentator, in a report by John Geddes in Maclean’s “It is a fact beyond dispute that the United States remains the global destination for patients from all over the world.”

The Fraser Institute has estimated that about 41,000 Canadians go south for medical care which is obviously a miniscule fraction of the millions of medical procedures that occur every year across Canada. "Think about the absurdity about Canadians spending their income on medical treatment outside the country because it's not provided here at home," said Brett Skinner, president of the Fraser Institute, in a Vancouver Sun report By Mike De Souza and Sharon Kirkey.

Fox’s “fact beyond dispute” and Skinner's "absurdity" apply to the rest of the world but not necessarily to Canada or other developed countries. Dr. Bryce Taylor, surgeon-in-chief at Toronto’s prestigious University Health Network, said Ontario’s heart centres offer the latest techniques with virtually no waiting lists. “They were impugning our ability to give patients good access,” reports Geddes. I suspect that it was a particular surgeon that took Williams south.

Canadian hospitals match American cutting-edge procedures but Americans don’t go north for care because Canadian hospitals and physicians are not insured for malpractice suits that might be brought in the U.S. Dr. Jack Tu, senior scientist at Toronto’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, has researched outcomes for heart patients in the two countries concluding that there’s little difference, reports Geddes. Within a month of heart surgery, about a quarter of U.S. patients are back in hospital compared to about a fifth in Canada. This is probably because of the pressure that U.S. insurance companies put on hospitals to get patients out the door as quickly as possible.

“In fact, the issue of readmissions has prompted the American College of Cardiology and the U.S. Institute for Healthcare Improvement to launch a program called Hospital to Home, in a bid to find ways to lower that troubling readmission rate,” writes Geddes. “Even the elite U.S. hospitals are seized by the issue. Last year, the Cleveland Clinic appointed a task force to study the problem. Broadly speaking, Tu said American hospitals tend to have the edge in technology and intensive care facilities, but Canada’s health system is better at caring for patients over longer periods, including after they leave hospital, and in making sure they get the prescription drugs they need.”

The Canadian health care system is as good as the U.S. system across the board. At the same time, it’s less expensive and accessible to all, regardless of their economic circumstances, and with most procedures, there is a lower re-admission rate because patients tend to be treated completely at the outset.

One thing not mentioned are the number of so called “snow birds”, well off Canadians who retire to the southern U.S. They keep their Canadian citizenship so they can readily return to Canada for medical care. This is something not availableto Americans.


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place

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Chalyezta July 18, 2012 3:02 am (Pacific time)

Hi David and Kathy, My husband and I are Canadian and arvierd in the Dordogne region three years ago. I'd be happy to exchange a few emails comparing things. It has been interesting to say the least. Number One mistake we made was not getting a Saskatchewan or Quebec drivers license before leaving Canada. You can just swap either one of those for a French license. Any other province and you have to do the full French driving exam in French within one year. They say there is an abbreviated test of just 20 road signs you need to know, but somehow no one could tell us when it would be scheduled in the Dordogne. One could not just show up and complete it but go on a scheduled date, which only happened when enough people wanted to do it. Very chicken and egg. I love it here though and won't return to Canada if I can help it. Pam

Jerry West February 13, 2010 2:13 pm (Pacific time)

Good on you Daniel. It is obvious that my fellow Americans who disparage the Canadian system are either ignorant, or intentionally spreading bullshit to support a political agenda.

I will stack up my health insurance costs and coverage against any plan that they have down there, and come out the better.

Jim February 12, 2010 6:09 pm (Pacific time)

The link below certainly blows your thesis away about Canada's so-called superior healthcare. This site hits upon all countries with nationalized healthcare programs and exposes the myths about how well these programs operate.

It blows nothing away, Jim. It's a Republican sponsored website that uses selectively chosen clippings and loaded words like "statist", and "totalitarian" to pander to its already believing audience. The real problem with health care is the doctors themselves, many of whom are just in medicine for the money, and patient care takes second place. Your audience is not here, Jim.

Amanda Leduc February 10, 2010 9:55 pm (Pacific time)

I am just curious Jerry, how much time have you spent receiving medical treatment in Canada? Or is this just some more anti-socialized medicine propoganda that you saw on TV?? And by the way, if you were going to credit any country for Canada's existence it should be England!!

Hank Ruark February 10, 2010 7:01 pm (Pacific time)

  Make that TWO deserve both, and can flourish 'em next time you dare cross the Canadian border...
  You earned 2nd medal by that line re wealthy politician; fact is 99%-sure he was sent to U.S. physician simply due to kind of treatment and skill level(s) involved...standard med/practice, of which you are either ignorant or distorting here for affect...either way earns you that 2nd b.s./medal.

  IF you have reliable source for your insulting statement, sir, fly it right at us here with link so we can check it.

Jerry Madison February 10, 2010 9:31 am (Pacific time)

The bottom line is this "wealthy politican" could not get the care he need in the province he controls. What happens to all those with similar problems? They wait around and die? I have excellent healthcare in the states as do over 85% of us. There is also a significant percentage here who can afford health insurance that don't buy it. Canada will never provide the level of advanced healthcare that we do. How come you are bleeding medical doctors? They are leaving and coming here. Your patient wait times between primary care, then diagnosis, then treatment is getting longer and longer. More amd more Canadians will be coming here for healthcare. We are in the process of improving our system, we will make our own way and not model ourselves after any other program. Canada is a great country, but you are in existence because of our dollars and trade practices with you. We have tapped into huge natural gas reserves, so in time when they come on line, you will see a decline in your exports. Even China and Japan will not need your energy resources. So you will return to your previous economic reality, tourism will be your main source of income.

Canada is in existence because of your dollars and trade practices? Get a life, Jerry.

Natalie February 10, 2010 1:10 am (Pacific time)

Americans are no worse. They go south for medical care too. To Mexico, that is. Can't afford to get sick here. Seriously.

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