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Real fear of private health care


When I lived in Kansas, I was a bit of a hypochondriac.

I spent several years in a state of constant panic, worried that every headache was a brain tumour, every swollen gland was lymphoma, every stomach cramp was appendicitis. Granted, I am a person who is prone to catastrophizing, but most of this anxiety was a direct result of living in a country where health care was privatized.

Since moving back to Canada, I’ve (mostly) returned to my previous state of blissful ignorance about my health. Over the last couple of months, however, I’ve been reminded of what life is like without the security of “socialized” medicine.

A treatment recommended by my surgeon to address some rogue cells in my body involved root canals on four (yes, FOUR) otherwise healthy teeth right in the front of my mouth. But since dental care isn’t covered by Alberta Health Services (AHS), the cost for this was coming straight out of my pocket – I’d already used up my insurance allowance to cover the many tests required for my diagnosis, which had all been conducted by my dentist since the issue involved my mouth.

I asked my surgeon why AHS would cover the surgery necessary to complete the treatment, but not the root canals that were required first. He informed me that with Canada’s private dental-care system, those procedures are not billable through AHS – the only way I could have my treatment entirely covered would be to have the affected teeth extracted.

These teeth are perfectly healthy. They’re not even 30 years old. They only needed root canals to ensure my surgeon could effectively eliminate any trace of this rebellious tissue, reducing the likelihood that it may decide to rebel further – a procedure totally unrelated to my oral health.

I'm fortunate in that I was able to cover this expense, but for many other Albertans, that wouldn't be the case. Someone else receiving my same diagnosis might have ended up needlessly living without their four front teeth. Or, they might have opted to leave the teeth alone and go ahead with the surgery, anyway, only to find those disobedient cells wreaking more havoc in the future – resulting in more extensive surgical procedures at taxpayer expense.

Needless to say, when the NDP and Green Party both announced platforms that included a national dental-care program, I was intrigued.

And then, when the UCP tabled its 2019 provincial budget, I was incredibly discouraged.

I want my government to prioritize the well-being of its constituents. I believe having a healthy population is the foundation of a healthy society. And I remember what it felt like to live in a place where basic health-care expenses could essentially bankrupt a person – and it was absolutely terrifying.

I don’t want to live like that again. I really hope I don’t have to.