Senior Citizen Perspective: A Look at National Health Care in Canada

Mar 7th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Social Security & Medicare

The current health care reform debate in the United States is based on a lot of opinion; news reports now suggest opponents of a national health care plan will use fear as a mechanism to mobilize public opposition to a national plan.  Since education and knowledge are the best combatants against fear, SCJ decided to take a look at the health care system in Canada and report several documented facts about that national system.  The United States and Canada have more in common than we have differences, and perhaps our Canadian neighbors’ opinions can address some of the fear being created in the U.S.

  1. A 2009 poll by Nanos Researchfound 86.2 of Canadians supported or strongly supported “public solutions” to make our public health care stronger.  These poll results were released at a time when the CMA (Canadian Medical Association) were discussing their preference to have a more privatized, for-profit system.
  2. The private sector funds about 30% of health care in Canada, primarily services such as prescription meds, dentistry and optometry.  Sixty-five percent of Canadians have supplemental private health insurance through employment.  Although most of the services are provided by private enterprises, public funds account for most of the financial support.  Doctors receive a fee per visit/service. 
  3. The most recent annual report “Healthy Canadians, 2008” from the Canadian Department of  Health provides this summary beginning on page 10:

The General Canadian Population

• Most Canadians (85.2%) aged 15 years and older reported being “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the way overall health care services were provided, unchanged from 2005.

• Fewer Canadians younger than 75 years of age were hospitalized in 2005–2006 for chronic conditions (such as diabetes or hypertension) that can be cared for in the community—385 admissions per 100,000 population, down from 459 in 2002–2003.

• Life expectancy for Canadian men has increased to 77.8 years in 2004 from 76.7 in 2000, while it has increased for women to 82.6 years in 2004 from 81.9 years in 2000.

• Canadian men had a prostate cancer incidence rate of 121.0 new cases per 100,000 males in 2005, a decrease from 125.3 new cases per 100,000 males in 2000.

• Canadian women had a breast cancer incidence rate of 97.5 new cases per 100,000 females in 2005, a decrease from 101.9 new cases per 100,000 females in 2000.

• Fewer teenagers reported smoking—12.0% of 12- to 19-year-olds said they were current smokers in 2007, compared to 18.7% in 2000–2001.

• More Canadians aged 15 years and older who required health services for themselves or a family member reported difficulty obtaining immediate care for a minor health problem—25.3% in 2007 compared to 20.7% in 2005.

• Fewer Canadians (61.1%) aged 12 years and older reported that their health was “excellent” or “very good.” This is a decrease from 62.5% in 2000–2001.

• Almost one third of Canadians (31.5%) aged 18 years and older reported a height and weight that corresponded to a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight category, unchanged from 2000–2001. In addition, 15.5% reported a height and weight that corresponded to a BMI in the obese category, an increase from 14.1% in 2000–2001. Almost half of Canadians (49.7%) aged 12 years and older stated they were active or moderately active—a decrease from 51.6% in 2005. More males (52.1%) than females (47.3%) reported that they were active or moderately active in 2007.

• Fewer seniors (64.1%) aged 65 and older reported having received a flu shot during the 12 months before they were surveyed—a decrease from 66.2% in 2005. 

Wait times is one of the stickier issues discussed by Canadians with regard to their health care.  The Healthy Canadians report cited above has a section that describes typical wait times.  Some facts gleaned from the report include

  • Median wait time to see a specialist is four weeks to three months;
  • Median wait time for MRI and CAT scans is two weeks to three months
  • Median wait time for surgery is four weeks to three months
  • Median wait time in emergency room is four hours
  • Life threatening illness/accident are address immediately; non-urgent cases are seen at the next available appointment  

SCJ plans to continue researching information about national health care plans in other countries; reporting factual information will assist us all in addressing fear generated by opponents of national health care reform in the United States.



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