Opinion: Universal health care in Canada? Not really

St. John’s sees the sunrise 4.5 hours before Victoria. This means Newfoundlanders are the first to see the light and British Columbians are the last.

Unfortunately, some who leave the West Coast to study on the Rock get an unwelcome surprise. Students who arrive from other provinces are denied health coverage, as are their dependents and partners. All this in the province most likely to have medical test results vanish from electronic health records.

In 2012, Charlotte Morton left British Columbia to study in Newfoundland. Today, she lectures at Memorial University as she pursues a PhD. She’s married to a Newfoundlander and has no intentions of leaving St. John’s. “I work here, I pay taxes here, my children go to school here,” she told the CBC in December.

Yet when it comes to health care, Newfoundland won’t pay. The province’s Medical Care Plan (MCP) denies coverage to students arriving from elsewhere. Morton has applied for coverage but always in vain.

It’s not supposed to be this way. When Canadians change provinces, the former province is obligated to continue coverage for the first three months. Thereafter, the new province pays … except when they don’t. Then the federal government and the two provinces try to settle the squabble.

Sometimes all the diligence in the world isn’t preparation enough.

Last September, Angelica Lauzon left Victoria with her partner Stewart Walker as he began studies in Newfoundland. Advance calls to respective health authorities left her expecting a seamless transition. But when she applied to MCP after her arrival, it refused. Walker would not qualify because he was a student and Lauzon would not either as his partner. They called B.C. but were told they were out of luck there too since they weren’t coming back. After a time without coverage, a B.C. official said they would “bend the rules” and reinstate their coverage.

“I’m speechless, really,” Lauzon said. “I just want that comfort of being able to call up a family doctor and make an appointment.”

No, that would be too simple.

Until Walker is done studying, he and Lauzon are “kind of paying double,” as she puts it. They will have to pay both the Medical Services Premium in B.C. and taxes in Newfoundland. An official from MCP even told Lauzon if they tried to reapply before that time, they could be charged with fraud.

The Canada Health Act is the real fraud. Its promise of universal, quality health care is just a deceptive dream.

The sobering reality is rationed care that leaves people in line while their health erodes. Doctor shortages and overcrowded facilities are the most familiar ways this occurs, but Morton discovered interprovincial squabbles can mean the same thing. She has gallstones and could develop sepsis if they aren’t removed. B.C. is still paying for her health care six years after she left and doesn’t want to pay for the procedure to be done in St. John’s.

Morton, a working and studying mother, doesn’t want the time and expense involved in a 10,000-km round trip so the surgery can be done in B.C. So she keeps making appeals, and the stones sit in her gallbladder and the bureaucrats sit on their hands.

Do you think this is crazy?

So does Newfoundland’s health minister! John Haggie had no idea things worked this way until CBC told him. “If you’ve got a Canadian citizen who wants to move to Newfoundland and Labrador and can’t get coverage, that’s crazy,” he said. “We’re open for business.”


Canada’s socialist champions prided themselves on how health care is not open for business. But when government is the single payer, taxes are coerced from people whether they use the service or not. Every patient is a liability and the more services they receive, the more it costs.

If people feel forgotten, it’s because they are – far more than if they were a patient directly paying for health care.

The government of Newfoundland saw the light a long time ago. From a fiscal perspective, the best thing a regime can do is ration and deny health care to people who will be taxed for it regardless.

The single-payer system twists incentives for both users and providers, but it’s the system we have. And it’s failing. Canadians need to wake up.

Troy Media columnist Lee Harding is research fellow for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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