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Unlike Canadians, Americans pay a huge financial and emotional price for health care

Written by Diane Archer

Catherine Gordon reports for the UC Observer on cancer care in Canada and the US, profiling her own experience in Canada and that of her sister Karen, in the US.  The sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer within one year of each other. They both received first-rate treatment; but, unlike Catherine, Karen paid a huge financial and emotional price for her health care.

Both sisters had six chemotherapy treatments and 25 rounds of radiation treatment. Catherine’s medical bills were minimal, $750 in out-of-pocket costs and $1,200 for her wig. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan paid for the rest of her care. Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program paid for most of the cost of her $400 breast prosthetic.

Karen, in sharp contrast, paid more than $23,000 out of pocket–about $7,500 in health insurance premiums and $16,000 to meet her deductibles over her two years of care. In addition, she suffered through the emotional and financial hassles of deductibles and copays, as well as accessing needed care. Karen was asked to write a check for her care minutes before she was about to get surgery. “Just as I was getting ready to head to the operating room, a tall man in a nice suit came in and told us he had to have a cheque before they would go ahead. ‘It’s our new policy because people aren’t paying their bills.’  We paid him, of course, but it seemed absolutely outrageous — especially when you’re frightened and sick.”

Catherine reports that Karen’s file folder of  medical bills was three inches thick. She had nearly 50 bills from a range of health care providers, including pathologists, imaging centers, radiologists, plastic surgeons, anesthesia services, blood labs. She had no clue who many of these providers were or what services they had provided. Karen had to navigate this sea of bills, while “in crisis mode and trying to deal with getting well.”

Watch this video put together by Bernie Sanders to learn more about Catherine and Karen’s experiences getting cancer care in Canada and the US, respectively.

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