Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Looking at surgery

New runners: Brooks Adrenaline!Earlier this year, I mentioned how I wanted to put big travel plans on hold because I could have upcoming medical expenses that could cost me thousands. Well, now that I know a little bit more about the cost, I can share with you. :)

You probably know I’ve been having foot problems for over a year. After finding a passion for distance running last year, I injured myself in August of last year. Since then, I’ve stopped and started training programs a couple of times due to this nagging injury. Well, a few weeks ago I finally went to see a podiatrist, got x-rays, and today I went in and discussed the options available to me.

Basically, I need to get bunion surgery at some point. The bones in my big toe are drifting farther away from my foot, and surgery is the only answer to permanently fixing my problem. Otherwise it’s only going to get worse.

It will cost a total of $6,000 for both feet through the podiatrist (each foot has to be done separately), plus a recovery time of 4-5 weeks for each surgery. 2 weeks in a cast (1 week at home), and then 2-3 weeks of recovery/no exercise until I can start moving again. The cost of the surgery doesn’t worry me as much as the actual recovery, but $6,000 is still quite a lot of money.

So the only other option I have is to get a referral from my doctor to see an orthopedic surgeon. The same procedure done by an orthopedic surgeon should be covered under medical. But the problem is, it’s hard to get into see a surgeon, and the wait time could be extremely long (versus just a month or two with the podiatrist). I’ve booked an appointment to see my doctor in order to get that orthopedic surgeon referral, so fingers crossed! :)

In the meantime, I’m getting custom orthotics made by the podiatrist (covered under my extended health insurance). It won’t solve my problem, and my feet will still hurt, but it will help a little bit. And my bones will stop moving as fast as they have been.

Has anyone done this surgery before? I’d love to hear about cost and recovery time!

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


Comments

  1. Boo, that sucks. I’m going down the same path right now, I had foot pain, x-rays showed no stress fracture, so now it’s time for physio and possibly orthotics. Good luck!

  2. gift4gab says:

    Can you explain more about the health system? I thought Canadians were covered for everything?

    I have had multiple foot surgeries (big toe bunions, little toe bunions, ruptured tendon (2nd toe) and hammer toe surgery).

    I originally wanted both big toe bunions done at once, but I am now glad that my Dr. did them at separate times (about 3 weeks apart). I am not sure how I would have hobbled to the bathroom or bed/couch without having one decent foot to walk on. The first week, in my opinion, is the worst. But then it starts to get more tolerable. I found the Ortho boot to be more comfortable than the post-op shoe. It takes many weeks before you can wear any type of heel/pump. I pretty much lived in runners (wide ones) for a few months. By 6 months out, I was good as new.

    I did end up needing orthotics as well and they made a huge difference – but the surgery was necessary.

    Best of luck,
    Gina

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yes, Canadians are covered for most surgeries. But for some reason podiatrists are considered private and are not covered under the health care system. If I can get into an orthopedic surgeon, then it would be covered… but I need a referral from my doctor (appointment booked), and the wait time for surgery can be very long (years vs. months). So I really need to consider quality of life at this point.

      Thanks for sharing about your recovery from surgery. I don’t wear heels, so that’s not a problem… but I’m wondering how long it will be until I’m fully back to exercising again. Or at least going on walks without discomfort.

      • Anonymous says:

        The only reason a bunion surgery would not be covered in Canada is if it were for purely cosmetic reasons. I had the surgery myself. As usual, you’re being dishonest.

        • Krystal Yee says:

          My podiatrist told me that the procedure is not covered under MSP when done by a podiatrist. That is the information I was given. Podiatrists in BC are almost all working in private practice (where the surgery is done in the office, not a hospital), and that’s the difference. I am told it is only covered by MSP when done in a hospital by an ortho surgeon, which is why I’m going to explore that option as well! :)

          Also, I’m not sure why anyone would get foot surgery for purely cosmetic reasons?!

          • Anonymous says:

            Your podiatrist is wrong or, more likely, you just weren’t listening.

            • Krystal Yee says:

              Would you be able to give me the name of your podiatrist? If you got it done in BC and it was covered under medical, I’d love to check out that option. All the podiatrists I’ve researched into are not covered. Thanks! :)

            • Shari says:

              You are the one who doesn’t know what they are talking about. I am in a similar situation to Krystal, needing surgery on my right foot due to a large bunion and hallux limitus. When I called my insurance company, they said that my extended health care does not cover Podiatry – even surgery like the one I need.

              So then I called BC Health / MSP directly and to ask why non-cosmetic surgery, to correct pain from arthritis is not covered under the MSP.

              I was told the exact same thing as Krystal. Podiatrists in Canada have elected NOT to be part of the public health care system. Therefore they have no hospital privileges and that is why they do their surgery in their private clinics. MSP pays them a flat rate per surgery, and the patient pays the podiatrist the difference in their costs (basically the costs for them to run a private clinic, surgical facilities, supplies, etc.) So my foot surgery is NOT covered under the MSP. They told me the only help I get with costs from the government is that I can claim them as a tax deduction.

              When I asked why, if I needed surgery on my hand or knee it would be covered, but not my foot, they replied, quote:
              “Yes because those surgeries would be done by an Orthopedic surgeon, not a Podiatrist. If you want your surgery to be covered, you need to be referred to an Orthopedic surgeon by your GP, and then this would be within public Health Care system and it will be covered”.

              If you don’t believe me call BC Health yourself and get your information straight before you contradict others who have done their homework.

              So Krystal, you are quite correct. If we choose to go to a private practice / Podiatrist, we will get the surgery we need quickly, but will have to pay the expenses ourselves.

              If we want it covered by MSP, we need to get into the system and put up with months/years of pain until we can receive our surgery. But as my podiatrist pointed out to me, the longer I wait, the more the joint will deteriorate and the harder it will be to restore full functionality.

              Good luck to you! I hope all goes well.

            • Lia says:

              @Krystal

              Krystal… don’t listen to the random low life trolls on here. It’s too funny reading their weird comments making so much assumptions, accusations and predictions! *rolls eyes*

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Dear girl:
      I just read your story. I have same problem that you had. Would you mind to provide the surgeon ‘s name to me as a referance? it will be the easy way for me to find out a good doctor for getting surgery done?

      • Jocelyn says:

        Your best bet is to make an appointment with your family doctor and ask them for a referral for surgery, if you are a candidate.

        Wait times are not the same everywhere. I had knee surgery that had one single day’s wait time from assessment to go time. I heard people complaining about the same surgery taking months of waiting. They do prioritize functional surgeries over pain-relief ones. To put it in perspective, the owner of this blog is choosing surgery to relieve herself from pain and further bunion progression, however, she is still very active and it is not affecting her ability to go throughout her day, so it would not be high priority under BC medical.

  3. Wow, that seems like a really intense surgery! I didn’t know bunions affected young people. I hope you can get some of that huge bill covered and that you recover well afterwards.

  4. Strandedrocks says:

    Yikes! I am sorry to hear about your predicament. I have dealt with issues regarding weight bearing joints and my feet and they are not fun and usually take longer to heal. May I ask, is your bunion issue a result of taking up running? Or is it hereditary and was exacerbated by running? Thanks.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Nobody else in my family suffers from bunions (although my mom’s toe bone does stick out a bit as well), and my feet didn’t bother me until I tweaked them in field hockey practice last year. Ever since then, it’s been bothering me. So, perhaps it was somewhat hereditary, and was exacerbated by an extreme increase in exercise (field hockey/running)? I have no idea. :|

  5. Looby says:

    I’m sure you have already considered other possibilities but in my experience some medical professionals will push very aggressively for surgery. I had very bad pain in my foot a couple of years ago, my gp referred me to ortho and I requested a PT referral also.
    The PT specialized in feet and managed to deal with the pain through ultrasound treatment and exercise, by the time I saw the ortho I was pain free but he said based on my xray surgery would be necessary! Maybe at some point in the future it will but I don’t think I’d rush into it. Hopefully you might find a PT specializing in feet in your area.

  6. Maria says:

    This surgery should be covered by your health card, no? I’m not sure about British Columbia but in Ontario, this is covered so surgery would be free. I’m positive because I work at an Xray/ultrasound clinic and do referrals for bunion surgeries (bypass, transplants, etc) and patients don’t pay at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Krystal, I’m really confused about your post. All surgical procedures in Canada, unless cosmetic, are covered by your provincial health care plan. So I have no idea why you are quoting the proposed “cost” of your surgery.

    • Anonymous says:

      She probably just wants the surgery for cosmetic reasons only. Normally podiatrists won’t do this and so that’s why she is going to an orthopaedic surgeon. Honestly, the things that this girl writes about – she can be a real airhead.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      In BC, procedures done by podiatrists are not covered under the health care system unfortunately. I was told by my podiatrist that they are covered when going through an orthopedic surgeon. But the issue is the wait time to get into a surgeon could be very long. My friend went through the procedure a few years ago and was told the wait list was going to be around 2 years, so she chose to pay out of pocket and go with a podiatrist instead.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I honestly don’t see the point of putting Krystal down, whoever you are. There are actually quite a few things where you can go for the public vs private route in the health care system. Obviously, private = paying out of pocket and it’s usually much faster. I personally would also choose to pay out of pocket if the wait time was years. Best of luck to you, Krystal. I feel bad for you, but your situation will get better. I promise!

  9. Carolyn says:

    I had my right bunion fixed with surgery and thought I would go back to get the left done. 8 years later I haven’t gone back. I guess I should have, I didn’t realize there was such a long wait here in BC (I had mine fixed in Alberta).

    Also, when I went it was supposed to be a local anaesthetic, but I changed my mind about 5 minutes into the surgery and had them give me general. They use power tools to cut the bone and I could feel my leg vibrating/shaking from it. I’m a little squeamish so it was hard for me (the general anesthetic was great though!).

    Recovery was fine. When the cast came off I had a lot of scar tissue and I started to not bend my toe when walking, it caused several more months of physio. Looking back I should have worked tried to increase the flexibility in that toe as soon as the cast came off.

    Good luck! I’m sure whichever path you choose will work out good!

  10. Anonymous says:

    This post certainly raises more questions than it provides answers.

    “Years” seems like an overstatement. I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t go to your family doctor and at least see what the referral to an orthopaedic surgeon was like in terms of wait times first before heading straight to a podiatrist. When I get information unfavourable information from someone who has an axe to grind and wants my money, I double check the “facts” they tell me. You referenced a post back in June of this year and it’s now November. You really have no idea if you would have been able to get a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon by now.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Back in June, I thought perhaps bunion surgery would be something I’d have to do, but was still “hopeful” that my foot was fractured and that it would eventually heal on its own. I stopped distance running in August because my foot was irritating me. Some days are good, and others are bad. And that’s why it took so long to actually see a specialist about this problem.

      In between that, I did go to my doctor to talk about my foot pain, but was told it was likely an overuse injury and just to rest.

      When I eventually decided to see a podiatrist, I didn’t know that they weren’t covered under MSP before I booked the appointment. I wish I had known that sooner, because it seems like a procedure that would definitely be covered under the health care system. But the good thing is, I’ve got an appointment scheduled with my doctor on Friday, so fingers crossed I can get a referral to see a surgeon, and that they can give me an estimate on what I’m looking at in terms of wait time.

      Oh, and yeah the wait time of years does sound ridiculous. But my friend had the same surgery done and she was told by the surgeon it was about a 2 year wait because it’s a non-essential surgery.

  11. Ontario says:

    I have to agree with Krystal here. I have suffered from bunion issues for several years, and have made inquiries, but not had the surgery. In Ontario, bunion surgery is ONLY covered by provincial healthcare when performed by an orthopedic surgeon – NOT a podiatrist. Surgery done by a podiatrist may be covered under private health insurance, but oftentimes the patient must pay for a substantial part of the cost.

    In terms of seeing an orthopedic surgeon, there can be long wait times to get a referral, let alone even get the surgery. An orthopedic surgeon and surgery will not be covered by provincial healthcare if the issue is not severe enough. To even qualify for bunion surgery by an orthopedic surgeon, there typically needs to be a large deviation of the big toe, and substantial interference with daily activities. You will likely also need to demonstrate that other methods of pain relief (such as orthotics) have been incapable of managing the issue.

    Krystal – based on my research you might be better off with the podiatrist. Podiatrists perform bunionectomies all the time, while orthopedic surgeons do not. Typically, the podiatrist uses far more advanced methods with shorter recovery times, and wait times for surgery are short. You should be able to claim any costs associated with this procedure on your income tax return.

    I haven’t gone through with the surgery yet because my problem is relatively mild, and I am not currently willing to accept the downtime required afterwards. My bunions arose from a combination of genetics, structural defects in my feet (extremely high, stiff arches), and competitive T&F sprinting that placed too much stress on my big toes. At this point, the pain is managed by wearing wide-toed shoes, and using orthotics for any kind of impact activity (such as running).

    Hopefully, orthotics will help with the issue, and you won’t need surgery at all!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yeah, after doing a lot of research online, I’m leaning towards using a podiatrist as well. The one I am seeing has done thousands of these surgeries and is one of the experts in the field. My private health care will cover a small portion of the cost as well, which is at least something.

      I’ll get my orthotics in a couple of weeks, and I’m excited to try them out. He taped up my foot to simulate an orthotic and while it definitely helped support my arches (I have super flat feet), it didn’t do much to relieve the pressure on that toe joint. Still. Keeping my fingers crossed! :)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Krystal, I am really appalled by the rude comments of some of your “readers”. Way to stay positive :) I would recommend going with the specialist. It may seem like a high price to pay, but from recent personal experience, waiting for things that are covered by public healthcare isn’t so great. It’s half ass work because they have a wait list.

  13. Dojo says:

    Uff, let’s hope it will all go down very well and you’ll recover in no time. I never had this issue, but I did go ‘under the knife’ 3 times already (not counting the c-section). Keeping fingers crossed and wish you all the best :)

  14. Anonymous says:

    I used to work at a podiatry office in Alberta, where it is an allied health service, similar to BC. In AB, our podiatrists offered an option where the surgery was in a day surgery unit covered by provincial plan, so there were much fewer out of pocket costs (~couple hundred) and another option where it was completely private. Might want to check around if there is a podiatrist that can offer this in BC. I agree that a wait for an ortho would be even longer and not worth it. Physical therapy and correcting the muscle imbalances exacerbating things are also something to look into.

  15. Amy says:

    I had bunion surgery done last year by a podiatrist in Florida. I have a pin and three staples in my foot. I was four weeks completely non-weight bearing (I live on the second floor – yuck) and I used a knee scooter instead of crutches. I then went to three weeks in a surgical boot and then weaned into sneakers. I am literally one year post surgery and really happy I had it done but the 4 weeks of non weight bearing was pretty difficult. Thank God for my husband helping me so much. I went up and down the stairs on my butt; never again! I’ll move in my sister for a few weeks!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Here’s an idea; quit long distance running. It really is a pointless endeavour. You need to listen to your body.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Also, if u end up getting the surgery done by a podiatrist, the cost should be eligible as a medical expense tax deduction.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I would absolutely go to the ortho for surgery. You might be surprised by the visit- many orthos now have physio in the office. I would not trust surgery to a podiatrist. I also did not find custom orthotics to be of any help. Most of the current evidence suggests that orthotics purchased in the drug store are just as effective as custom orthotics.

  19. j says:

    I had this surgery done back in 1997. It was covered under my parents insurance as I was still in college. Prior to that, I had custom arches made for my feet which I put into every pair of shoes I wore. The surgery was the best thing for me. Recovery took some time and you definitely have to stay on point with your big toe exercise, but it was totally worth it.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I had this surgery on my both feet done on 1995 in Alberta, but I didn’t perform any other future treatment to keep correcting it. Twenty years past, Bunion is being came back on my left foot on the big toe again. I wash it won’t happen with someone else.

  21. Rob says:

    Hi

    Can you provide an update? I am at the same decision point as your are. My podiatrist estimated 6K for me but when the facilities came back to him the cost was now $11k!!! This seems way too high.

    I will start the public (orthopedic surgeon) path inquiries as well.

    Thanks

  22. Anonymous says:

    Krystal is right. BC is not covered under the MSP. They opted out years ago when our BC government changed things. Whatever you have under your extended plan which is not much.
    I just paid for my surgery. But may be something to check out in the USA maybe less expensive there.

  23. Allan says:

    Hi all I just looked into your podiatry comments
    I had an interesting situation last year when I came home from an extended vacation, where I bought new shoes which turned out being too narrow. I came back to Canada with foot pain, which my family doctor as well as the locum diagnosed the problem as gout & prescribed the necessary drugs, which didn’t help. After 4 months of foot pain, I was referred to a Podiatrist who took 3-5 minutes to tell me that I had mortens neuroma from wearing shoes that were too narrow. One cortisone shot & advice to put in matatarsal pads in my shoes. And the issue was solved. These guys are worth their weight in gold. It is insane that they at not covered under our BC msp.
    I now have a broken ankle with foot pain (the ankle is healed), but the only physician I trust to resolve is the Podiatrist I saw before. So f&?@/ ing frustrating that the best are not covered under our msp.

  24. Anthy G says:

    Hi Krystal! I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m very intrigued by it. I am currently scheduled for my first of two bunion surgeries next month, and I too went through the whole podiatrist vs orthopedic surgeon debate (for the record the person that was slamming you is a complete idiot and has no idea what they are talking about). Everything you said in your blog is correct, as I have encountered the same information in my research as well. I am curious to know the outcome of your surgery? What you described sounds very much like the same surgeon I will be seeing (I wonder if we have the same?) I’m really nervous about the surgery and have debated several times cancelling it but it has begun affecting my daily life and I know I need to deal with it sooner rather than later. I too have very flat feet and bunions on both feet. I am doing the easier of the two surgeries first. Not sure if you will get this message but I would love to hear from you if you do. Thanks!

  25. Breanne Henderson says:

    Hi Krystal,

    Omg! I’m in the exact same position. This was posted 2 years ago and I’m curious to hear about how everything went for you. But yeah, on the waiting list just to see a surgeon, then who knows how long before a surgery and I’m in so much pain but still need to work. I’m only 24 but have had this problem my entire life. Can’t afford to pay for the surgery as of yet..
    Please let me know how everything went for you so I know it’s all going to be okay one day :)

    Bre

  26. steve says:

    Hi Kyrstal,
    Did you have your foot surgery? If yes was it with an orthopaedic surgeon? And who did it?
    If no, I highly recommend Dr Seth Bitting, MD. He does a lot of sport related fractures. It’s worth the trip to Trail, BC.

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