Welcome to Canada! – In which I use my Alberta Health Card for the first time


If you’ve lived in Canada your whole life, or if you’re American and have been living under a rock, you may not understand why this was such a BFD for me, but I used my Alberta Health Card today.  And it was awesome!

Living in the US, I’ve been insured at times and uninsured at others, and both states suck in their own way.  When you’re uninsured, you live in mortal fear of even fairly minor accidents or illnesses.  And if you feel REALLY sick, that’s when you least want to go to a doctor because you are terrified you’ll receive a diagnosis that will prevent you from ever having insurance ever again…that dreaded pre-existing condition you’ve heard so much about.  If you should actually decide to go to the doctor for some reason, you may be stuck in a position where you have to choose between such luxuries as buying groceries that week or paying the electricity bill.  Because, let’s face it, if you have a job that doesn’t offer you benefits, you probably don’t make enough to do all three.

If you are insured, the contortions you have to go through sometimes to actually get your insurance company to pay what they have promised to are truly epic.  You still live in fear of accidents and illness because if your insurance company can find a way to get out of paying, you know they will and if it’s really bad, they’ll find a way to drop you.  They have lots of experience doing just that and that’s their real business.  They have to protect their bottom-line before they protect your health.

So, that’s the mind-set that I am used to.  Avoid the doctor at all costs.  I know that’s counter-productive in most cases, when it comes to health, but it’s reality for many people.  So when I came down with things like sinus-infections, I just dealt with it. And that’s what I was doing here until I noticed the clinic in the shopping center near our neighborhood.

Southwood Medical Center

I got my healthcare card a few months ago and when I saw the sign earlier this week, I thought, “It’s time to take that card out for a spin.” So, after I took Ken to work today, I walked over to the clinic.

When I walked in, it was really similar to any clinic I’d ever been to.  Sign in at the desk, fill out a short form because I’d never been there before, hand over my card and ID for the receptionist to photo-copy…you know the drill.  And then sit down and wait.  And because of the stories I’ve heard, I was prepared for a long wait.  One of Ken’s co-workers had said it may be 20 minutes, but it might also be 2 hours, so I had a podcast on my phone, a book and a knitting project in my bag, just in case, and even a granola bar and some orange juice because I’d skipped breakfast.  I sat down and put the podcast on, took a sip of my orange juice and nearly spilled it down my front as a nurse startled me by calling my name.  What?!  That wasn’t even 5 minutes, much less 2 hours!!

She took me back to an exam room and told me the doctor would be with me in a minute, and of course, that wasn’t so.  I got through the whole podcast, but that’s pretty much what I expected and was used to anyway.  So, about 30 minutes later, the doctor came in, asked what was the trouble and I told him I thought I had a sinus infection.  He did all the normal doctory things…checking my throat, my ears, lymph nodes, etc. and then gave me a prescription for antibiotics.  Easy peasy, right?

Well, this was when I felt the most unsure of myself…did I just walk out? That felt wrong.  I mean, you can’t just walk out, right?  It can’t really be that easy…I felt nervous…like a thief…like I was trying to get away with something.  Surely someone would notice I wasn’t really Canadian…they would follow me out the door and tackle me for stealing healthcare, right?  The door was right there…should I just leave? I didn’t know.

So…feeling like an idiot…I asked.

“Do you need anything else from me?” I asked the receptionist in a low voice.  I didn’t want anyone else in the waiting room to know about my stupidity.  That would just be too embarrassing.

“I’m sorry?” She looked confused.

“Um, do you need anything else from me….” I asked again.

“No, that’s it, you’re done,” she said, smiling up at me.

“Awesome!” I said and broke into a huge, stupid grin. At which she laughed and said, “Welcome to Canada!”

Oh…and those antibiotics? $2.22.  So, you know…it’s not totally free.




9 thoughts on “Welcome to Canada! – In which I use my Alberta Health Card for the first time

  1. Glad you had a great experience. Just so that your readers know, doctor’s visits are free but prescriptions aren’t. My son’s doctor checked he had insurance before prescribing expensive (but effective) medication.

    1. Thanks, Maureen! Yes, Ken and I have prescription coverage through his employer, so the antibiotics would have been about $20 without that.I really had no idea about cost or anything when it came to healthcare here.

  2. You know, we are a rich and wonderful country but we can’t afford to JUST GIVE AWAY those drugs… 🙂

    Hope you feel better now…or now…or maybe now.


  3. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, about to cry because I am so happy that you have healthcare coverage like that. No one should have to choose between eating and healthcare, between electricity and healthcare, between bankruptcy and getting the care you need.

    After spending 34 days in the hospital with no insurance, my bills amounted to a little less than a half million dollars here in the US. Even after filling out tons of paperwork to apply for every financial aid program that I was told to apply for, the discounted bills still amount to over $125,000. We have no choice but to file bankruptcy because of these bills. The good news is: I am still alive. The bad news is: I still need another surgery, maybe two, but because I have no health insurance and both surgeries are considered to be elective surgeries, I won’t be able to get them done.

    AND, the condition I have is now a pre-existiing condition, which makes it impossible for me to get a health insurance policy. It is frustrating, sad, and just plain not right that in the United States, this can happen.

  4. That is amazing. I sort of felt like that when my husband was in the military. I walked out expecting to pay something….but they assured me I was ok to go. LOL! It is a crying shame that everyone can’t receive affordable healthcare and PEACE OF MIND knowing that it will not bankrupt them to get it.

  5. Hi Becca,

    I bumped into your mother down in the North Rim last week and we were chatting while I was checking in at the park. We got talking about Canada (I’m a Northerner living in the Southwest US) and we got talking about healthcare in Canada vs US and she mentioned your blog.

    I’m glad you had a good experience and are enjoying Calgary. I lived south of there for a summer near the Franks Slide in the Crownest Pass back in 2001 – very beautiful country.

    For my experience, it was the opposite. I moved to the US in Sept 2010 and my wife was pregnant at the time (due in Jan) and still working in Canada. She finally moved down at 8 months pregnant in November of that year.

    I have good insurance plan from my company (or so I’m told), but here I was with a 3″ binder reading it trying to figure out what we were eligible for and what not. We even met with out benefit rep from HR to help us decipher it. At the end of the day, we were still completely confused and at one point we considered having my wife move back to Canada to have the baby as we were worried about the cost. At the end we decided to have the baby in the US.

    It wasn’t until our daughter was born and the bills came in did we finally understand what we had to end up paying.

    Anyway, enjoy your stay up north.


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