How to Be a Queue-jumper in Canada’s Public Health Care System
Last year, media reports kept us abreast of the people jumping Canada’s health care queues for the H1N1 vaccine. Among those making the list were hospital board members and donors and professional athletes and their families.
Many Canadians voiced their anger over these individuals receiving the vaccine ahead of priority groups identified by the government. This anger increased when some public vaccination clinics were forced to close for a period of time after public demand exceeded government supply. It was interesting to watch this reaction considering that queue-jumping in our public health care system takes place every day across the country.
Individuals belonging to certain groups including Canadian Forces, RCMP and federal inmates are provided with coverage under separate federal programs outside of Medicare. This means that these individuals can legally access “medically necessary” services at private facilities. This advantage is also enjoyed by recipients of provincial and territorial workers’ compensation. Outside of these groups many Canadians use their celebrity, community status or personal connections to help them jump the queues.
The claim that Canada’s public health care system provides equal access to health care for all of its citizens is untrue. What is true is that when your life or the life of someone you love is on the line, you may need to jump a public health care queue.
There are currently legal cases in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario challenging provincial laws prohibiting Canadians from purchasing private health care insurance and medical services. These court cases will take years. In the meantime, here are some tips I’ve learned from patients on how to be a queue-jumper in Canada’s public health care system:
- Call often when awaiting test results or for updates on cancellations and appointments with specialists or for surgery. They will try to tell you that you must wait ‘like everybody else’. Remind them that you are an individual which means that you are different from everybody else.
- Network to find someone who knows someone, preferably a list-keeper, who can help move your name up the list. It happens more often than you think!
- Check with your employer group health insurance plan to see if they provide coverage for any diagnostic imaging or second opinion services by medical specialists.
- Use the Internet to help locate private facilities offering diagnostic imaging and pay for any tests needed by your medical specialist. These places are prohibited from providing services without a physician’s referral but check to see which other health care practitioners in your province or territory can provide referrals.
- Go to the hospital by ambulance. It may cost you a few hundred dollars but you’ll have a better chance of getting an MRI or CT scan more quickly.
- Have your family doctor send a referral to a few specialists, located in different provinces or territories if necessary, and make appointments with all of them so that you can take advantage of any cancellations and take the first available appointment.
- Keep seeking care through the emergency department while waiting for surgery. If you visit enough times your case may be considered more urgent.
- Contact the media and go public with your situation. As one of the top issues in Canada, stories about our health care system receive attention and regional health authorities prefer to avoid negative publicity.
- Hold a demonstration outside of your provincial or territorial legislature.
- Recruit family and friends to become advocates for you and help discover any loopholes available in your local health care region.
Queue-jumping can take time, so depending on your medical condition your best option may be to follow the lead of Canadians who leave the public health care queues to seek medical care outside the country. Many hospitals have staff dedicated to assisting Canadian patients and often accept major credit cards or provide discounts for a cash payment in full.
If given the opportunity, would you jump a health care queue? Let’s take a poll.