While the healthcare debate continues to rage in the United States, many Canadians are counting their blessings. The universal public healthcare system is considered one of Canada’s best qualities. On campus, McGill students have access to their own health system, which caters specifically to the 34,000 graduate and undergraduate students covered under the university insurance. However, complaints about dealing with the McGill Student Health Services are rampant, from worries about wait times to difficulties scheduling an appointment.
Maddy (Arts, U0) is an international student from California who described the headache of trying to get a psychiatrist appointment. “I tried to make a doctors appointment and they put me on hold, but the call dropped…and then they said the phone line was closed.” When Maddy finally was able to schedule an appointment in November, she was told that the earliest she could be seen by a psychiatrist was a month later, in December. A referral is required to be eligible to receive psychiatric counseling from the McGill, so Maddy asked her previous psychiatrist for one. However, McGill Mental Health Services does not accept psychiatrist referrals. Consequently, Maddy was forced to leave the McGill system and pay out of pocket, an expensive alternative to receive the needed psychiatric care and one that is not accessible to all students.
Emma (U1, Science) was able to see a doctor after only a week’s wait from scheduling an appointment. She described a process of mixed success, as the doctor she saw was unable to give her the treatment she needed and redirected her to a specialist out of the McGill system. The problems with McGill’s health system are not unique; there are similar stories across Canada. So, in the words of Mr. Picard, a health reporter from The Globe and Mail: “What the hell is wrong with our health system?”
Picard claims that all Canadians want is, “prompt, necessary, safe, affordable, and respectful health care.” Like in any health care system, McGill students and the rest of Canadian citizens are forced to choose between coverage and rationing, they’ve have chosen the former. In order to provide universal coverage, they must ration health services. Picard identifies the root of this problem as stemming from the health system’s conception in 1957, when service was oriented towards primary care and Canadians were on average 27 years old.
The disjointed nature of the Canadian system also comes from its federal structure, whereby each province is in charge of implementing its own version of universal health care. This results in structural problems, where hospitals are forced to provide inadequate secondary care, which more closely resembles social work than health care, rather than a lack of capable nurses and doctors. Picard notes that many problems facing Canada’s health care system are administrative in nature and that the overall system has fallen behind the requirements of a greying population.
What the hell is wrong with our health system?
Fortunately, Mr. Picard believes that the steps which need to be taken to fix the system are largely known and achievable. The 40 public commissions on the Canadian health system widely agree on the necessary policy changes for an effective health system. These include expanding and unifying the list of covered prescription drugs between provinces, labor contract negotiation, and focusing on community-based primary care.
So what’s being done on McGill’s end to provide better service for students? The McGill administration is taking steps to expand mental health capacity through implementation of the Student Wellness Plan. This includes construction of the Rossy Student Wellness Hub, an extension to the Brown Student Services building.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Canadian health care systems. Mr. Picard acknowledged that Canada’s system was superior to the United States’ and other countries where citizens are unable to afford healthcare coverage. “Does Canada deliver [in terms of healthcare]? Sometimes, maybe often,” Mr. Picard remarked.
McGill’s system mirrors Canada’s and proves that not all stories of the health care system are so discouraging. Addy (U1, Music) was able to walk into the clinic and receive medical care after only a few hours wait. “I had a great experience, the nurse-practitioners were great, the receptionists were fine. They were really helpful in finding insurance and making sure I was covered.” Indeed, the majority of students are able to receive prompt and respectful care. However, there is still room to improve at McGill and across the country.