One of the perks of our job in Canada is access to Alberta Healthcare. This is the second time we have been covered by universal healthcare, or "socialized medicine" as conservatives call it pejoratively. We were covered by British National Health Care System (NHS) when we lived in London for five years. Every province in Canada has it's own provincial health care system, 15 in all -- plus Veterans and Aboriginal health care programs. In the almost three years we have lived in Canada, we have never seen a bill after leaving the doctor. Every penny of routine health care is covered. True story: Mrs. Crab had to visit the emergency room last year after a bike accident. Her treatment included Xrays, Cat scan, ultrasound, pain medications, IVs and a semi-private room -- and the only thing we paid for was $4 for parking! Had this happened in the United States, my Foreign Service Benefit Plan (administered by Aetna) would have charged me 10% copay of at least $250.
Like most universal health care programs, Alberta Healthcare does have its limitations. It doesn't cover everything, and the wait times for specialists can be twice as long as in the United States, so some Canadians pay out-of-pocket for supplemental health insurance. The average Canadian earning $100,000 (about $78,000 in U.S. dollars) will pay about 35% of their salary in provincial and federal taxes, compared to about 25% rate for a U.S. citizen earning the same. But the differences are partially offset by the fact that the average American spends $10,000 in healthcare costs per year including premiums, copays, etc. The other downside is Canada has a severe shortage of healthcare professionals, forcing the country to bring in doctors and nurses from other countries, most notably the Philippines.
Whether Universal Healthcare could ever become a reality in the United States remains to be seen. The most challenging issue would be the sheer size of such a program. Canada only has 35 million people, and the UK has 65 million people, compared to about 326 million U.S. residents. But on the flip side, the U.S. has never made a real attempt until the Affordable Care Act.
Canada has had universal health care since 1966, but it dates back even further to 1947 when Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister who as premier of Saskatchewan introduced the first provincial health care program. (US-Canadian Hollywood trivia: Douglas is the father of actress Shirley Douglas, married to Donald Sutherland, who are the parents of Kiefer Sutherland, who plays an accidental President of the United States on "Designated Survivor").