Friday, January 02, 2009

The upsides and downsides of Canadian healthcare

Lev at 3 weeks
Originally uploaded by mricon
As I have mentioned earlier, my son was born 5 weeks premature. It's not really that big of a deal -- he was just underweight by about 3 pounds or so, but the fact that he was born at 35 weeks and not at 37 weeks or later meant that he had to stay at the hospital for some time before he was allowed to go home with us.

We got to pick the hospital where we wanted to deliver the baby (don't believe anyone who says that in Canada you can't pick what doctor or hospital you go to -- it's totally untrue). At LaSalle General all families are given a private room where the baby is delivered and where the mother remains for a couple of days after delivery (normally 2 days for term babies, or 4 days if it was a c-section birth). In our case, after the normal 48 hours in the delivery room we were transferred to a different private room with a regular double bed where we stayed for another 8 days while the pediatrician kept Lev in the nursery for observation and for treatment (when he got jaundice). We had to provide our own sheets and get our own food at the cafeteria -- but it was still a room at a major hospital.

Now, in the US, 10 total days rooming at a hospital plus care/treatment for a preemie baby would have cost me probably upward of $20-30K, depending on the hospital. Even with decent health insurance, that would have probably left me with $2-3K after all the co-pays and deductibles. I'm glad that at no point in these rough 10 days I had to worry whether my HMO would cover this or that procedure, or whether I would have to dip into my retirement account in order to cover the expenses. Tommy Douglas, you're my hero.

On the downside, now that we're done with the hospital, it's practically impossible to find a pediatrician that is taking patients -- there is a very bad ongoing shortage of doctors (and nurses) all across Canada, and particularly in Quebec (partly due to its French language requirements). We're not stranded -- for scheduled things we can go to the clinic (a "CLSC"), and the pediatrician that treated Lev at the hospital will continue seeing him until we find a local doctor, even if this means that we have to trek all the way out to Dollard-des-Ormeaux from Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. It may look close enough on the map, but it's different when you don't have a car.

We're on a couple of waiting lists, but I don't think we'll find a pediatrician or a GP within local distance for a while yet. You guys in the US need to implement your own government-insured health care just so our doctors stop running away down South for the big bucks. ;)


Unknown said...

You underestimate the cost of a premature birth in the USA. My son was born at 37 weeks but had slightly underdeveloped lungs. He stayed in the hospital for 10 days, but didn't have any surgeries or anything out of the ordinary. Our total bill was just over $100k. We had decent health insurance and we paid ~$18k out of pocket.

Unknown said...

Wow. Ouch. I was trying to be conservative in my estimates, but I didn't realize I was that far off the mark.

Crazy. My condolences for your wallet.