Making it Work: Healthcare

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

It is well-known to the McGill community that dealing with McGill health services can sometimes turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth. To find out how wait times are affecting students, The Bull & Bear sat down with various stakeholders to hear what they had to say about their experiences.

McGill has a very high percentage of international students who don’t have access to provincial health care except through the university (though some choose to opt-out). They therefore likely don’t have a family doctor that they can go to and even if students have the potential to access to provincial health care, the wait to be assigned a family doctor is currently over 400 days. It is for this reason that many students go to the clinic despite waiting several hours to be seen; they have nowhere else to turn.

Currently, the clinic works on a “first-come, first-serve” basis, making waiting extremely difficult for students with more pressing medical concerns. Alua Kulenova, a U0 Arts student, explained that she “feel[s] like there should be priority-based waiting instead of first come first serve.” She told The Bull & Bear, “I know everyone has reasons to go to the clinic, otherwise they wouldn’t be getting up at 6 AM to go, but … some are much more immediate than others.”

I know everyone has reasons to go to the clinic, otherwise they wouldn’t be getting up at 6 AM to go, but … some are much more immediate than others.

One U0 Education student had a memorable yet common experience this past December. “My friend started throwing up in her dorm around midnight about a month ago. She had a flu the day before and she doesn’t handle sickness well,” she explained. “We thought that it was better to be safe than sorry, so we decided to take her to the nearest hospital. We Ubered to Montreal General, and ended up waiting for nine hours before my friend could be seen.”  

She went on to explain a subsequent discussion about the under-staffed status of the hospital, saying: “The attendant explained to us that it was dependent on the fact that there was only one doctor working that night, and they were busy with patients that needed more immediate attention. But they were definitely very understaffed for the amount of people that were also in the waiting room.”

Although getting to see a doctor in Montreal or on campus is difficult, students requiring medical attention while abroad face an entirely different challenge.

U3 student Noah Powers told The Bull & Bear about his experience studying abroad in the Netherlands last year. He tried to claim reimbursement from McGill after a trip to the hospital for some blood tests. He didn’t receive his reimbursement for months, and eventually decided to call the insurance company directly to figure out what was going on.

“I end up calling people back and forth between 5 different insurance offices including Blue Cross, Canassistance, Blue Cross Manitoba, Blue Cross Quebec and Blue Cross-Medavie. I was on the phone one day for 5 hours,” disclosed Powers. “No one had my claim and they had lost all of my original documents. I also have an extensive email chain with them, and I threatened legal action because it was [seemed to me like] negligence (losing my personal medical information). After I threatened legal action they somehow located my documents.”

After hours on the phone, Powers ended up getting some of his money back. He spent around $650 dollars for his medical care abroad. “I got a cheque in the mail 2 weeks ago for drumroll….. $22.”

Many students are dissatisfied, to say the least, with the McGill health care system, and they aren’t alone. Despite the fact that Canada’s universal health care system lessens the likelihood that people go into debt for simple medical procedures, it creates other difficulties for people trying to get more immediate medical attention.

Many students are dissatisfied, to say the least, with the McGill health care system, and they aren’t alone.

An article by the Toronto Sun cites a report indicating that more and more Canadians are leaving the country to seek health care.  “217,500 Canadians left the country for healthcare in 2017, according to Statistics Canada.” This number is growing each year.

However, many Canadian students feel the issue is unique to Quebec and not of Canada as a whole. Torontonian student Olivia Zankowicz told The Bull & Bear,  “Of course, it depends on your circumstances, but I feel like in Toronto there are more clinics and more availabilities. I’ve done phone call medicine there where you talk to a medical professional over Skype. I feel like the hospitals in Toronto are much more clean and put patient care at a higher priority. When I went to Sick Kids in Toronto, I was treated right away, there was no wait time.”

Quebec also has a similar over-the-phone healthcare program, called Info Santé, which is equipped to respond to callers who are concerned about the fever, flu, insect bites, and those who are seeking information about other health care resources.

Some Canadians have been arguing in favour of a new healthcare system that divides health care access between public and private clinics, but whether or not this concept is picking up ground around the country is not clear. Alberta just introduced a bill entitled “An Act to Protect Public Health Care,” which will prevent priority patient treatment in certain clinics for those who can pay for medical procedures up front. Alberta Lt. Governor Lois Mitchell delivered a throne speech on behalf of Premier Rachel Notley denouncing “American-style” health care, instead favouring more widely accessible healthcare.

Quebec is in the process of asking for more federal funding for healthcare. A recent article in the Montreal Gazette reported that “Health Minister Danielle McCann says the reduction of health care funding from Ottawa to the provinces over the next decade represents a loss of $14 billion for Quebec….McCann has written to her federal counterpart, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, seeking an increase in federal funding that would see Ottawa eventually cover 25 percent of healthcare spending in the province.”

Until then, McGill is trying to incorporate more benefits into its healthcare program via students’ financing. A referendum is coming up to increase the opt-out health and dental fee and to increase maximum psychological coverage from $500 to $1000. The opt-out fee would be raised from $50 to $100, and the motion will be proposed in the Winter 2019 referendum period to be enacted next fall.


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