Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hospital User Fees

Canada has socialized medicine that covers a wide range of medical needs. We usually say that these services are “free” to Canadians. Of course, by “free” we mean that all costs are shifted to taxpayers. However, many hospital patients and even visitors get hit with a form of user fees.

These fees come in the form of parking costs. In a recent evening trip to my local hospital, I was charged $14 for parking from about 6:30 pm to 10:30 pm. This isn’t a lot of money, but it is much more than the going rate for evening parking in this area.

I could have taken the bus if I wanted to avoid paying for parking, but the last thing I was thinking about while heading to the hospital was a few dollars. I suspect this is true of most others who go to the hospital. So, hospitals are mostly free to charge what they want for parking. Hospital parking rates in my area having been rising much faster than inflation for several years.

Parking fees aren’t likely to ever be officially considered a hospital user fee, but from a practical point of view, they amount to user fees. It would be interesting to see what effect parking rates have on the number of hospital visits. Do some people put off a trip to the hospital because they don’t want to pay for parking? I can guess what the official answer would be, but I’d like to know the real answer.


  1. A friend of mine works in IT for our provincial health department (MB). He told me that the simplest doctor visit costs the system $150. I was always reluctant to see the doctor, but I'm even more so since I heard that. Like you, I don't think of it as "free" health care, I think of it as taxpayer funded.

    re: parking, when my wife went into labour, I got her settled in at the hospital, then moved the car to a free-parking area. If this were a funny story I would have missed the birth, but luckily, I didn't.

  2. Gene: I'm trying to imagine how my wife would have reacted if I had missed the birth of one of our children because I was moving the car. On the one hand she'd have been upset that I wasn't there, but she would have approved of trying to save money. I suspect that most other women would react differently.

  3. Parking fees at the Hospital sometimes are hidden tests as well. It is actually cheaper to get a weekly pass if you will be visiting the hospital more than once a week? Sounds nuts, but that was how it was when my son was born.

  4. Given that you are going to be waiting at the hospital for several hours anyways, you might as well take the bus there.

  5. Big Cajun Man: Once you understand the system, it's possible to save a lot of money. At one hospital that usually charges $14 per day you can pre-buy 15 one-day passes for $3 each.

    Anonymous: It turns out that not everyone has to wait for a long time in Emergency. Some patients are deemed "level 2" by a triage nurse. These people usually get seen in just a few minutes. I've never observed higher levels than 2, but they must exist.

    CC: That's the type of reaction that I'd expect most women to have if they were in labour and the father went off to save money on parking.

  6. I paid the same 12$ for parking (in 2006) when my wife had her appendix removed. She was being send home the 2nd day after surgery and there simply was no way to avoid all the potholes of the parking lot... But we, as Canadians, we are used to pay for unsatisfactory services.

  7. Andi: It's true that Canadians are a little sheep-like in accepting poor service, but overall, I'm quite happy with the Canadian way of life compared to the US and other countries I've visited.