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Category: Health

The OHIP Card—the Benefits are Priceless

| June 17, 2009


Don’t be misled by the rhetoric of opponents of single-payer health care, says the author, who has experienced the insurance systems on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. She has a decided preference.

If you’ve been harangued by your insurance company in the middle of the night because you didn’t call them prior to checking your husband into the Emergency Room when he was having a heart attack—read on. Not long after that happened to me, my family moved from the United States to Canada to take advantage of a business opportunity. But of equal advantage for us was a small, powerful card that gives you access to free medical care.

With the health care debate in the United States often focused north of the border, it is important to state first what should be obvious—most of the information Americans hear or read about the Canadian health care system is inaccurate. It is information intended to distort the facts.

My family moved to Canada in 2002 as my son was entering high school. My husband had a history of heart disease, and I was stressed. But after 90 days, we had our OHIP Card (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). We were covered. No money, minimal questions and no intimidating customer service people on the other end of the line—ever. Peace of mind settles in quickly and feels great.

Since we arrived we’ve had many tests, consulted with specialists, been treated in the emergency room and in clinics for minor injuries and regularly visit our family practitioners. Some actually still do house calls for elderly patients. For a routine visit, the doctor has your OHIP information; for a test at a lab or at the hospital you show your card. Simple!

We are not alone feeling secure. In 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 46 million people were uninsured—a number, estimates show, that has grown substantially during the recent economic crisis. In Canada, the entire population—31,612,897 in the most recent census—is covered. That is a startling difference.

While the benefits for prescription drugs do have major limitations (until you reach 65) and many people have supplementary plans for drugs (my family included), the fact is you can get quality medical care—yes quality—in Canada. And given the numbers of U.S. citizens who go to lengths to buy their drugs north of the border, that’s not as big a drawback as it could be. If you have a medical emergency while traveling outside Canada, OHIP will cover a substantial portion of the hospital costs—but not everything.

What about waiting to get treatment? It happens, but not nearly to the extent reported. Besides, waiting to get an appointment with a physician or a specialist and getting approvals from your HMO in the United States can take a long time too. And, the billing and paperwork process afterward can be—well, endless.

Because family practices are integral to the system in Canada, prevention is stressed and the relationship with doctors is ongoing and positive since the doctor and patient can easily establish a rapport. Is high-end care less accessible? Not in the experience of my friends. If you have cancer for example, getting the most sophisticated diagnostics, consultations with specialists, months of chemotherapy and follow-up care without the added worry about piling up bills is priceless.

One friend, who recently fought non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now in remission, put it simply: “I never saw a bill.”