From Canada, A Satisfied Customer Reports

Before moving to Toronto from the U.S. in 1991, I heard plenty of horror stories about the Canadian medical system. Now, after three years of direct experience with the Canadian system, I know better. In fact, I'm more satisfied than some of my friends back home in America, who are grousing about the restraints they face under managed care.

While the U.S. media loves to play up the problems with Canada's system, it ranks far ahead of the U.S. in terms of customer satisfaction. "More than 90% of Canadians favor our system," says Angus Reid, a top Canadian pollster. Even Canadian chief executives "are very strong supporters," says Thomas P. d'Aquino, president of the Business Council on National Issues. "I can't remember the last time a CEO told me he was going to the U.S. for treatment."

HIGH QUALITY. The system is remarkably easy to use. For covered services, there are no insurance forms, deductibles, or bills. All you need is your health-insurance card. Last year, I experienced all this firsthand, when our second child was born in Toronto. When my wife became pregnant, she had complete freedom to choose an obstetrician. She chose one of Toronto's leading specialists, who went on to perform many high-tech procedures, including amniocentesis. Her choice paid off when she went into labor. Our son presented in the "breech" position. In the U.S., that almost certainly would have dictated a C-section. But her doctor expertly delivered our son the old-fashioned way.

Canada's system is far from perfect. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, a conservative think tank, says Canadians wait an average of five weeks to see a specialist and even longer for some nonemergency surgical procedures, such as hip replacement. And access to high-tech medical equipment is restricted. Many Canadians worry such problems will worsen as a result of record budget deficits. But the quality of care is still exceptionally high.

And for all the cutbacks, there's still no wait to see your family doctor or for emergency care. Every year, fewer Americans have the freedom to choose their own doctor. Meanwhile, Canadians never worry about losing their insurance or losing the freedom to choose their doctor. Canadians spend a lot of time in the U.S. But almost all of them say they would rather get sick in Canada. After three years living up north, I can understand why.

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