As many discovered when they attempted to claim their coverage, these plans often failed to cover all the costs of a hospital stay. For Harry Fields of Toronto, an operation on his 18-year-old son who was no longer covered under his father’s insurance plan resulted in a debt of $10,000 that compelled Fields to declare personal bankruptcy in 1958 (Life Before Medicare, pp. 74–75). As public institutions, hospitals could not afford to provide “free” care, since their fixed costs continued to rise during the inflation of the 1950s. Nor were they likely to want to accept payment on an instalment plan. For example, John W. Angres recalled:
After we came in 1950 to Canada, my wife needed an urgent operation. She was admitted to the old Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The daily hospital bed rate was $6 at this time. She was in the hospital for about ten days and the total bill came to almost $300 including the operation, etc. At this time it was a lot of money, considering I was making $35 per week. As newcomers we did not have $300 cash, but I was supposed to pay a good part of it in order to get my wife discharged. For a whole day I had to run around to borrow money until I had $200 together. Now I was allowed to take my wife “home.” (Life Before Medicare, p. 57.)
As more and more of these incidents occurred during the 1950s, the public began to demand that federal and provincial governments intervene to ensure access and affordability.
Well-equipped operating rooms such as this one at the Kingston General Hospital (1956), combined with an increasing number of elective surgeries for a growing population, contributed to the rising cost of modern medicine in the 1950s. Courtesy of the Kingston General Hospital Archive, Kingston, Ontario, EQ 19-3. Used with permission.