Daily Archives: May 27, 2008

Health Care: Canada & the US

One great difference between the US and Canada is the litigiousness of the US. Americans seem to sue over a pinprick, a spilled coffee, personal stupidity. I remember a friend who does some sailing sending me an article at one point from one of his sailing magazines.

It was about a man trying to sue his sailboat insurance company because his ex-girlfriend was suing him for giving her genital herpes. His case against his insurance company had been dismissed with the following (paraphrased) statement: Unless the boat veered suddenly and Mr. Jones fell with his open mouth upon his girlfriend’s naked vagina, it is impossible to list this as the insurance company’s fault.

It was hilariously ludicrous that the guy would even try but through the years of talking to my many friends over the border I’ve come to understand some of the litigious nature. It boils down to the difference between our universal medicare program and the “everyone for themselves” system of the US.

True, many companies (most?) offer healthcare benefits in the US because people can’t otherwise afford to have themselves covered, but there are horrendous gaps. I know a couple with two kids who can only insure their children under their work insurance but can’t afford to cover the whole family. I have a friend who is diabetic and, years ago, was paying $800/month for health care insurance. Another friend would have to drive over an hour to a practitioner covered by her insurance plan. And, unbelievable to anyone in Canada where we have a shortage of practitioners, I know a doctor who couldn’t get a job because of how the insurance companies worked. Not to mention all those people with low-paying jobs and no insurance. How do you get it? Join the navy, army or air force.

Still, in Canada, you might wait months to see a specialist, to even get a doctor, for an operation and die in the process. But if you have a baby, break a leg or need emergency surgery, the cost to you is covered. You don’t come out of the hospital and suffer a coronary because you’re in debt for life. It’s not a perfect system and it’s being mismanaged but it’s better than nothing.

How does this relate to the litigious nature of the US? Simple. Any time a person is injured or needs medical treatment they end up paying astronomical medical bills. Weighing the price of a lawyer against the rising medical costs leaves most people with one option: sue to cover the bills.

The US is a much more populated place than Canada. This works better for many businesses; costs for production are similar in both countries but if 10% of the population buys the item, well, that’s a big difference between the two. Could universal medicare work in the US? Since Canadian medicare comes from taxes, I bet it could. But I’m no expert or analyst. However, if one looks at the cost of suing people, of tying up the courts with medical lawsuits vs freeing them up to deal with crime, it might be that it’s cheaper all around to give some modicum of healthcare to everyone.


Filed under health care, Writing