Canadian Patients Feel Wait Of The World
Posted 10/22/2009 07:27 PM ET
Socialized Medicine: A group in British Columbia has offered medical waiting-list insurance to members whose government treatment is on hold — another example of why state-run health care must be avoided.
Canadians have a health care system that should be the envy of no one. It's not free, it's funded by taxpayers, and it isn't truly universal. Two Canadian Supreme Court justices made this clear three years ago when they concluded that "access to a waiting list is not access to health care."
Delayed treatment in an overused system has been the root of much unnecessary suffering. To prevent premature deaths and the needless misery that are hallmarks of Canadian care, the British Columbia Automobile Association began offering waiting-list insurance to some of its members in August as part of a pilot program.
Those who bought the coverage would receive treatment in a private clinic in British Columbia or the U.S. if they were placed on a government care waiting list longer than 45 days.
The program, which took two years to develop, never got beyond the pilot phase, however. The association shut it down when critics howled and government officials checked to see if such a program was actually legal in Canada.
"This is an example of a company that's actively soliciting for clients that have the ability to pay for the privilege of queue-jumping," said Adrian Dix, a member of B.C.'s Legislative Assembly. "In my view, and in the view of the legal opinion that we obtained, it is illegal, and it violated both provincial and national health legislation."
It's hard to understand why an elected official, or anyone else, would knowingly trap people in a system that can't take care of the public it is expected to serve. Yet there are many Canadians who would, in the name of "fairness" and "equality," deny others' right to take care of themselves outside of the collective. They are outraged that some of their countrymen could escape the agony of the waiting lists while others languish in the bureaucratic wreckage.
But the real outrage, to quote Brian Day, former director of the Canadian Medical Association, should be that a government would actually force "a citizen in a free and democratic society to simply wait for health care, and outlaw their ability to extricate themselves from a wait list."
That, however, is the system Canadians have been living and dying with for decades. Only in recent years does it seem that they've had enough of it. First in Quebec and now in B.C., private clinics have been opening to treat those who either don't want to wait or are too sick to endure the system's waiting list. Whether they will remain legal and open will be decided this fall by the courts.
Meanwhile, Canadians keep waiting — and waiting. The Fraser Institute in Canada reports that the median wait time from a general practitioner's referral to actual treatment by a specialist was 17.3 weeks in 2008 (see chart). That's a full week better than the previous year, but far worse than a decade and a half earlier when the wait time was 9.3 weeks.
Despite the decline from 2007 to 2008, the long-term trend indicates that wait times will continue to grow. It's a discouraging pattern that the U.S. will follow if Washington forces any kind of government care on this country.