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Good health, Canada-style

My wife, Kathy (Fridgen) O'Connell, and I are Americans who have lived in Canada for many years. Kathy was born and raised in Wheaton and we both have many friends in Minnesota. We are appalled at the scare-mongering and sheer nonsense regarding Canadian universal public medical insurance by opponents of fundamental reform of medical insurance in America.

Our experience is, we think, typical and contrasts sharply with emotional anti-reform "testimonies" being broadcast across TV and Internet. Fees for our doctors' visits plus surgical procedures and hospitalizations have been covered by the provincial Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Access to specialists has been straightforward. When urgent, surgical procedures were done promptly -- a pacemaker implanted on one day's notice!

Both our sons were delivered in hospital by C-section at no charge. All our children, now adults, had their medical needs covered by public insurance while living in Canada. When my father joined us in Toronto from the U.S., he found that propaganda against so-called "Canadian socialized medicine" was baseless. Until his death at 96, he had to pay no fees for doctors' visits, outpatient geriatric care or two hospitalizations.

The fundamental merit of Canadian-style public health insurance is fairness to those of scant or modest income. But in addition there is no agonizing over the best affordable insurance -- or deciding against insurance because you just can't afford it. There are no complicated forms, prior authorizations or exclusions of pre-existing ailments. You are not trapped in an unsatisfactory job fearing loss of medical insurance. Catastrophic illness need not mean bankruptcy or abandoning treatment.

The Canadian system is not perfect. No system is. The struggle to rein in costs is as challenging in Canada as in America. But overall costs are proportionately less and health results for the population as a whole are superior in Canada. Our experience is that financially and for peace of mind we have been much better served by the Canadian public system than we would have been by private insurers in the United States.

Joseph O'Connell

Toronto, Ontario, Canada