By: Valentina, SFU Student
Canadian health care is often described as free when compared to other countries with privatized health care, like the United States. BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) pays for physicians, essential hospitalization, and x-rays, but not all services are covered or subsidized. The misconception that Canadian health care is completely free overlooks the essential medical services and devices excluded from provincial funding.
Growing up with allergies, asthma, and eczema, I struggled to find affordable medicine with minimal side effects. My symptoms prompted an allergist visit to learn more about my allergies and asthma. Despite MSP covering the fees for my lung function test and skin prick test, I soon realized there was a lot they did not cover. This lack of public funding prevents patients from accessing essential medical devices.
When I first started visiting my allergist, I asked if my allergies would qualify me for one of Pfizer Canada’s EpiPens, but the allergist warned me they were expensive — approximately $120 — and instead prescribed alternative medication. Thankfully, my allergies are manageable without epinephrine auto-injectors, but for patients who cannot afford them, the consequences can be life-threatening.
Patients who need epinephrine auto-injectors experience “severe allergic reactions,” such as swelling, wheezing, and shock. They require EpiPens and hospitalization to prevent death, but provincial funding excludes EpiPens. Because there is no alternative treatment for anaphylaxis and patients should always have their epinephrine auto-injectors nearby to administer a shot within five–15 minutes, MSP’s coverage should include these life-saving medical devices.
MSP’s exclusion of EpiPens also contradicts the Canadian Immunization Guide’s statement that these devices are necessary for COVID-19 vaccination clinics to have in case patients experience a deadly allergic reaction. Since EpiPens are necessary for emergencies, MSP should not reserve funding for public settings, such as COVID-19 vaccination clinics and hospitals, while denying funds for patients’ private use. While not all medical equipment can be publicly funded, EpiPens are something that can be used by everyone and need to be nearby. Those who require them are not able to wait for an ambulance, which can be problematic for those residing in rural areas.
MSP’s lack of life-saving coverage does not stop at EpiPens. Rather than increasing access to hospitals, MSP’s inadequate subsidization of ambulance fees exacerbates disparities in health care for rural Canadians. Despite high rates of illness, poverty, and mortality in rural areas, there are few medical professionals and insufficient public transportation. This contributes to the limited alternatives to ambulances. Residents in rural BC pay the same $80 ambulance fee as patients from cities, so they should be entitled to the same quality of paramedics. However, the ambulance fees do not compensate for the slower response times of ambulances and the lack of advanced care paramedics in rural areas.
Despite MSP’s shortcomings, I am still grateful for the services it covers. After being hospitalized at an American hospital for my asthma, I realized how fortunate I am to have public health care. Without my aunt’s financial support, I could not afford my hospital bills in the States. That being said, MSP still needs to increase patients’ accessibility to medical professionals and devices. The remaining financial barriers not only prevent patients from accessing medical services but also threatens lives.