By PG Veer | Watchdog Arena
American progressives look up to Canada’s health care system. For people like avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, health care is a right, and a single-payer system like Canada’s–where the state is the sole insurer–consecrates such a right.
However such a right comes with many downsides, including long waiting lists and a diminished quality of care. These are two of the reasons why over 52,000 Canadian patients traveled abroad to get health care in 2014, according to the Fraser Institute. That’s a 25 percent increase from the previous year, where an estimated 41,000 people traveled to get health care.
And we’re not talking about plastic surgery, which accounts for barely 0.3 percent of all patients in that branch. We’re talking about (non-urgent) neurosurgery (2.6 percent), urology and internal medicine (1.8 percent) and even cardiovascular surgery (1.3 percent). These figures are only estimates, based on a survey on physicians throughout the country.
Nevertheless, they confirm a heavy trend that has plagued the provinces–they are the ones managing the health care, not the national government–since Canada implemented the single-payer system in the 1960s: waiting times are impeding care.
Indeed, Fraser’s report also states that “patients could expect to wait 9.8 weeks for medically necessary treatment after seeing a specialist, [more] than 3 weeks longer than what physicians consider to be clinically ‘reasonable’ (6.5 weeks).”
This waiting was such a problem in the 1990s that many provinces, including my native Quebec, had to send hundreds of patients to the U.S. in order to alleviate oncology waiting lists. It cost three times more to do so because provincial governments also paid for temporary housing.
Waiting times, and the government monopoly over health insurance, was even declared in violation of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom. Back in 2005, theSupreme Court of Canada agreed with Dr. Jacques Chaoulli that the Quebec Health Insurance Act and the Hospital Insurance Act violated the right to life and security of person guaranteed by the Charter by forbidding people to get private health insurance.
In response to that decision, the Quebec government allowed patients to get privately insured for hip, knee and cataract operations if they can’t get operated within medically acceptable delays. As a result, Quebec became a model with respect to other provinces by outperforming them in treating patients within medically acceptable delays with these operations.
Right to care doesn’t mean one gets it
Notwithstanding this exceptional case, Quebec and Canada perform rather poorly in health outcomes. In fact, those outcomes are inferior to those measured in the U.S.
For example, remission rates for breast and prostate cancer are higher in the U.S. than Canada, and the at-risk population doesn’t get preventive screening as often in Canada.
It’s easy to understand why: it’s Economics 101 at work. Since medical care is “free” in Canada–making up about 50 percent of provincial budgets–governments have to ration care in order to control costs. This rationing explains why medical imaging machines are used less frequently, both for hours of operation and on a per capita basis in Canada compared to the U.S., but also why waiting times are dangerously long in the E.R.–an average of 17 hours, compared to eight hours in Utah.
That is, of course, unless one has the right connections, which happened to me at least twice. Thanks to my mother, who was an assistant nurse at the time, I was able to get medical imaging done on me in the evening. Without her help, I don’t know how long I would have had to wait for this (non-urgent) operation. She also helped me get in contact with a surgeon for another (non-urgent) operation which, once again, could have taken months before I got it.
In short, while “newspeak liberals” will not hear it, the Canadian health care system isnot a model to be followed for the U.S. or any other nation. Unless one’s life is in immediate danger, one is rightfully called “patient” in Canada since you are bound to wait for a very, very long time: I would have had to wait three months to see my family doctor when I last tried in 2013 for an annual checkup.
Those who can afford it have rightfully looked abroad, including in the ‘backwards’ United States of America, to get the medical care that was promised to them by a ‘compassionate’ Canada.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.