free health care?

a few weeks ago, i needed to go to my family doctor because some bites i had were getting really swollen. however, i had just arrived from france, and my wallet had gotten stolen in cannes. i had reported a lost health card, and the ministry was sending me a new one in the mail. for those ontarians who have never had to replace their original red and white health card probably won’t know this, but whenever you replace your health card, a 2-letter code is attached to the end of your number to indicate a new card (i suppose). truthfully, i only know this since i’ve had my wallet stolen years before. this new code just makes sure that your old card/number can’t be used by another person.

anyway, i’ve been going to this one family doctor for over 10 years now, and they are very familiar with my family. i haven’t visited their office in quite some time since i tend to just pop into my school’s health centre if i need anything. since i knew they had me on file, i just explained to the receptionist my predicament and so she looked me up and said it was fine. but then all of a sudden she says,

“your health card is invalid”.

“well of course it is, i reported it lost…they’re sending me a new one with a new code.”

“but this number doesn’t work. didn’t they give you a new number? they should have given you a form.”

“uh…i did it all over the phone” (ps. it’s the 21st century) “they said that if you need my new health card number before i get my card in the mail, you can fax in a health card number release form and that should take care of it.”

“um…what? what’s that? we don’t have that.”

at this point, i’m thinking “WHAT AN IDIOT”. what kind of receptionist doesn’t know the various forms and such involving HEALTH CARDS?! the ministry website AND their operator told me that doctor’s offices should just fax in the release form, but most don’t want to bother with the paperwork, so it should be no problem for me to get health care. i explain this to her. she replies,

“i’ve never heard of this form. if you need to see a doctor today, you have to pay $50 for your visit since you don’t have a health card.”

“i have OHIP*, i’m a canadian citizen, i’ve been your patient for over 10 years, but i still can’t get free health care simply because my card hasn’t arrived in the mail yet?”

she takes a i-can’t-be-bothered-with-you stance and simply says, “yes”.

i was so shocked at this, that i said,

“i was never told that i would have to pay for health care while i waited for a new card. i can’t believe this, i thought this was canada! this can’t be true.”

“the policy varies by the office.”

“look, dr. (my doctor’s name) knows me and my family very well, there should be no problem.”

“*sigh* i’ll ask him.”

“good, i’ll wait here.”

a while later, she leans over her desk and says, “he’ll see you.”

DAMN RIGHT he’ll see me.

i was so unimpressed with the whole situation and how the receptionist handled it, but mostly by the fact that as a full fledged tax-paying citizen, i could be demanded to pay for health care. i understand that in ontario, the amount of family doctors is quickly dwindling in ratio to the demand for them, but i had been with this doctor since i was 8 years old! and back then, i wasn’t even a citizen and i never had a problem seeing the doctor. it was even more of a shock, since coming from my program at cannes, i was surrounded by americans. they were always in awe of me being a canadian who had free health care and a good public education system. in retrospect, that experience was my first taste at what it felt like to be an american.

was it just how the receptionist handled the situation, or is it valid of me to worry about how much longer it will be until our health care system becomes privatized? hearing about how many family doctors have closed their doors to new patients a few years ago had me worrying, but not so much since i knew my family and i had good ones, but what about when i begin my own family? i fully intend to raise my children in canada, preferably in ontario, and i can only pray and hope that the government will hold out until much later to privatize health care.

i know this may seem very irrational since this is not such a huge news breaking issue these days, but i think it’s so important that we don’t take free health care for granted. it will only give you a greater shock when it is no longer, and then we’ll all end up having heart attacks and end up paying thousands in hospital bills. sigh.

i got my health card eventually. they’re way fancier now! i like this picture…i was 16 here, but i still look exactly the same!
new health card!

*OHIP = Ontario Health Insurance Plan

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