What It's Like to Be Chronically Ill and Have Universal Healthcare

I live with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and its co-morbid friends fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome. It took me 36 years to receive a correct diagnosis – 36 years to explain the repeated sprains, strains, dislocations/sublaxations and internal issues.

Do y’all know what that cost me?


Yes, you read that right. It cost me nothing, because I am extremely fortunate to live in Canada, Ontario specifically. Through our OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) benefits, all hospital/doctor/emergency room visits are 100 percent subsidized by our provincial government – even on a non-emergent basis. No co-pays, no paying up front and fighting for reimbursement, no staggeringly expensive hospital bills. It will remain like this until my death, so long as I retain a permanent residence in Ontario, and live here at least six months out of the year. These benefits are extended to every man, woman and child.

Now as a disclaimer, OHIP isn’t “free” – every employed citizen does pay higher provincial taxes. We also pay an 8 percent provincial sales tax on almost every single item we purchase, with few exceptions, such as basic groceries. At the risk of oversimplification of Ontario’s (kind of ludicrous) taxation structure, we pay a 13 percent tax called HST that is a combination of an 8 percent provincial tax, and a 5 percent federal tax. Our tax returns are usually smaller as well, like a lot smaller.

What does that mean for me? I had a pretty major shoulder surgery two weeks ago. I checked into the hospital for the usual pre-op routine, and walked out that evening without worrying how I was going to pay for my surgery. That’s right – I walked out of the hospital with zero money owed.

Will I complain about the higher taxes that I pay? Absolutely not. I’ll pay those higher taxes all day long, because I can show up at the ER any time of the day or night, for any reason, and walk out with no bill. I can see my various doctors, again with no bill. Cortisone shots? Urgent care clinic visits? Home nursing care prescribed by a doctor? I pay nothing.

Universal healthcare has afforded me an incredible freedom as a chronically ill person. If I’m having a good day, and want to go for a walk with my husband, I don’t need to worry about the financial implications of a hip dislocation. I am guilty of pushing my body to its absolute limits occasionally – I know it’s neither smart, nor recommended; however, I’ve always loved to be in the thick of things, and occasionally ignore my limits. I know I’ll pay for it later, and to add insult to (literal) injury, I’ll earn myself a strong lecture from my EDS doc.

I admit, being Canadian allowed me to take healthcare for granted in the past. After finding my way to The Mighty, and reading about some of the struggles people have gone through to obtain health care, this is no longer the case. Yes, my trusty pal OHIP remains; however, instead of taking it for granted, I now realize that though chronic illness is my reality, I am so incredibly blessed to live in Ontario, where I can focus on living my best life with this disability, without the financial worries that come from being ill.

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Photo via monkeybusinessimages on Getty Images

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