Friday, February 16, 2007

health benefits & you

As a Canadian, I am proud of our health care system. It's free & available to all immigrants & citizens & it's one of the best in the world. While prescription medications & dental benefits are excluded, it is covered via medical benefits provided by your employer. Premiums for these additional health benefits are not a significant cost for the employer & employee because of the nationalized coverage of basic health care. Some employers even cover all your premiums. Such was the level of care that we were used to in Canada.

When Hubby received his job offer from Bermuda, we made sure to negotiate that he & I would be covered for full health benefits with all premiums to be borne by his potential employer. We had no idea how much health benefit premiums cost in Bermuda but assumed that like everything that was reputed to be expensive on the island, this was too.

Here we are two years later, acutely aware of how expensive premiums are & how we lucked out in that department. We've learned that most companies cover half the monthly premiums for their employee & their spouses. Some just don't cover premiums for spouses at all. So, how expensive is it? Say about $300.00 a month. Yes, you read right. Thats about $3,600 a year & that's just for one person. A significant chunk of change, if you're not prepared for it. If you're lucky, your claims will be covered at 100%, for most insurance companies will only cover 50% to 80% of your claims. This again, depends on your future employer & how much more they are willing to shell out so their employees get the best deal.

The best advice I can offer for those of you looking to work on this island, is NEGOTIATE your health benefits coverage before you sign your contract. Don't be afraid that you're going to loose out on the job opportunity - you won't. Organizations here are aware of the amazing low cost health benefits that are available to Canadians in Canada & are willing to negotiate or acquiesce to your requests.
You've got nothing to loose by asking & you'd be surprised when they say yes.

Most insurance companies cover claims for dental work, prescriptions, etc done in your home land. They too, are aware of the top notch level of care you are used to, back home. You can even elect to have any required surgery performed in your home land, should you be unsure about Bermuda's surgical procedures. That & airfare would also be covered. For the rest, prescription eye wear is expensive in Bermuda, some places take up to 3 weeks to process, all because they order it from Toronto anyway (the irony never ends). Dentists are booked up on the island, especially the good ones, because there is a shortage of dentists in relation to Bermuda's population. So, you may want to schedule your semi annual visit to your dentist when you're back home. I know sitting in the dentist's chair is not necessarily what you want to be doing while you're on vacation, but you'll be better off in the long run.

Many a family member often ask us why we don't take time out to visit them when we're down in Toronto. Well, this is why - we're busy crossing things off our shopping lists & getting our teeth cleaned at the same time. It is because of this, my mantra & excuse for the past two years has been: It's never a vacation when we're in Toronto.


Anonymous said...


I have just stumbled upon your blog and want to commend you on great writing and great advice! I too, am a Canadian living in Bermuda and I feel my 6 years here has given me some perspective to comment on your post re: the health care system in Bermuda.

One thing that we Canadians are poor at is objectively analyzing the cost of living in Bermuda. I have to say that $3,600 per year for health insurance here is extremely cheap! How can that be?

First of all, our health care in Canada is NOT free. It is not even close to being free. It is paid for by our tax dollars, and a lot of them. If you were making, say $65,000 at your job in Toronto, you would be taxed at roughly 40%. That means you would be giving the government $26,000 a year in income tax, before GST, PST, tax on fuel, etc. A large part of this tax covers our "free" health care. In my opinion $300/month for full private health care doesn't sound so bad after all.

Secondly, as Canadians we always puff out our chests about how fantastic our health system is. However what we don't brag about to non-Canadians are the waiting lists for service. 8 months for a hip replacement, 6 months for a heart valve, etc, and these are getting worse. Canadian politicians today are trying to tackle the issue of sometimes 12 hour wait times in ER's. Here in Bermuda this is unheard of.

Most of the expats I know don't take the first plane home for health care. The doctors and nurses here are all educated and trained in Canada, US or the UK. Very few of them are actually Bermudian. Why would we assume that these Canadian doctors working in Bermuda have an inferior work ethic when they attend the same U of T and McGill med schools as our doctors who choose to stay in Canada?

Finally, not all Canadians are from Toronto or other big cities. Those who are from northern and other remote locations must be flown to hospitals in larger Canadian cities for serious treatments. This is no different than Bermuda residents who are airlifted to John Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic for serious treatment but these famous US hospitals have a better reputation than our decent hospitals in Vancouver, Montreal or Regina.

Please don't take this post as criticism. I am merely pointing out another point of view for future expats wishing to move here.

Kind Regards,


Ms. Cute Pants said...

Hello Kneesox,

You have raised some excellent points. Yes, it's true that we as Canadians do pay for our healthcare via taxes. But in the grand scheme of things, somehow we tend to forget that it does cost us significantly higher than it would here in Bermuda. Friends that have moved here have been shocked that they have had to cover the premiums themselves (because the natural comparison would be to what they were paying in Toronto). It's also shocking initially, especially when their spouse cannot work until their dependent letter comes through. Add that to the high rent we pay, it definitely adds up for a newcomer. In my experience, it is challenging for a couple to rent a studio for landlords prefer to rent out their studios to singles & with good reason. But any proactive measure that one can take to have companies cover the full premiums would just translate into higher savings.

The wait times for surgeries & the ER in Canada: this is a facet that is all too familiar to me. Thankfully, I have not yet had to visit the ER in Bermuda.

With regards to ex-pats wanting to fly off the island for elective surgeries, it was not my intention to insinuate that the doctors here, Canadian, Bermudian or otherwise, have an inferior work ethic. I was merely pointing out that the choice does exist should one feel more inclined & comfortable getting their treatment at home. Most are not aware that this choice is available to them. But I did forget to mention that the more renowned US hospitals are also part of that choice.

Thank you for your comments, absolutely no offense taken. While I aim to be as objective as possible, inevitably I tend to forget some key points, so comments from readers like you gives others a wider sense of what life is like on the island, especially from a seasoned ex-pat like yourself. Keep coming back.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Bda for 8 years leaving for distant shores in 2003. The pay system for heathcare in Bermuda and elsewhere seems a lot better than here in Canada, mind you I was well paid and the insurance was part of my renum package. Here in Canada the system is broken with no fix in sight.

Anonymous said...

"As a Canadian, I am proud of our health care system. It's free & available to all immigrants & citizens & it's one of the best in the world."

Please see link to article, below:

To highlight some points of this article that stand out:

- A serious bacterial infection has forced the closure of a Toronto neonatal intensive care ward.
- Extremely crowded conditions are partly to blame for the outbreak.

-The ward has 41 beds, each of which is squeezed into about 30 square feet of space -- far short of the recommended 100 square feet.

-The closing means that mothers will have to be transferred to other cities, out of province, even out of country to Buffalo.

Ms. Cute Pants said...

Alright both you Anons....

The health care is Canada is not privatized whereas it is in Bermuda. Anything with any government involved is a slow & sometimes broken process. It's not perfect but it is what it is. At least it exists for all Canadians.

Take a trip to America where many are without basic health care, unless they're employed & are able to afford health care insurance. At least all in Canada qualify for it!

Or take a trip to a third world country where even though you pay taxes on your meager income, you get nothing back in the way of social services. Not even basic health care. I was fortunate enough to not have this problem, coming from a middle class family. But trust me, I know the dire situations that many are in due to the LACK of health care.

So people stop trying to knock down a good thing. Those raised in first world countries don't know a good thing when they see it, unless they walk on the other side! Ever wonder why you don't hear an immigrant complain about the health care in Canada? It's not perfect but would you rather it not exist or be privatized?

Anonymous said...

Hi again Ms. Cute Pants, it's Kneesox here.

I don't work in the health care system and have never studied it, but I'm not sure that the option for the future of the Canadian health care system has to be as black and white as either public or private. I would think a middle ground exists. As long as I can remember, Canadians have been complaining about how highly taxed they are but “at least we have our health care system”. As long as we didn’t end up with the “god awful” American system then we would keep paying and paying via our always increasing taxes and would not complain. My question is: how is it done in the UK, in France, in Switzerland, or in Norway? Do they have a purely public or a purely private system? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from other European countries. By having pride in our system because it is better than one from a third world country just doesn’t cut it for me.

As for Bermuda, I would not classify its system as strictly "private". Yes, you and I and most other people have a health card in our wallets that is paid for either by us directly or via our employers. But those less fortunate in Bermuda are not turned away at the door and left to rot in the ditches if they don't have health care. These people are covered by the HIP which is paid for them by the government. Admittedly this coverage doesn't have all the bells and whistles like private rooms and LASIK eye coverage, but in my 6 years here I have never heard of anyone being refused treatment and left to die because they are poor.

As for Canada, even though we define ourselves as a people by our public health care system, the system is costly and broken. I think our system is good for the less fortunate, but is frustrating for those of us who could afford to pay for better service. Am I proposing a 2-tiered system? I’m not sure. However, if I were to move back to Canada and was able to pay $300 per month for health premiums, I would like to tick a box on my tax return to reduce my income tax because I’m covering the health premiums myself.

Finally, your dislike for all things American is not hidden in your writings in this and many other posts. It’s your blog and you are free to write what you like. I just find it ironic that when the neonatal unit in Toronto was shut, it was the health system in Buffalo NY that was there to help out the poor Canadians. Food for thought.



Ms. Cute Pants said...

Heya Kneesox.

Nice to hear from you again. I did not mention the minimum coverage to those unemployed in Bermuda because I was not sure of the logistics at the time of my post.

With regards to the help that Buffalo rendered while admirable & appreciated was also increased business & $$ for their hospital. I am sure Ontario will be billed for those services rendered. I have to say that I am not attacking America when I do point out certain aspects. I have many a relative that are Americans & I do try to be unbiased but America is what it is. When 9/11 happened America immediately began to blame Canada saying that the terrorists were let into their country via Canada. And about those accusations: they stopped the SECOND it was revealed that the 9/11 terrorists were trained in a Florida flight school. Yet we Canadians received no apology. I believe Bush's response to this request was met with a tsk tsk attitude - that we should be concentrating on bigger things instead of looking for apologies. The nerve! I still remember that press conference to this very day! Guess the American immigration officers were off that day! Remember the thousands of Canadian families that opened their homes for weeks to the many re-routed & stranded American families in Halifax due to 9/11? The poor Canadians have been there for the Americans just as much.