The Hidden Costs of Canada's Health Care System
12/07/08 - (06/23/07) FraserInstitute by Brett J. Skinner
[edited] In 1993, Canadians waited 9.3 weeks on average for treatment by a specialist. By 2006, it was 17.8 weeks, almost twice what is clinically reasonable. Canada's Supreme Court wrote "Access to a waiting list is not the same thing as access to health care" in 2005, striking down the single-payer system in one Canadian province.
Canada's long waits are partially caused by a shortage of doctors. In 2004, Canada had 2.1 practicing physicians per 1,000 residents; the U.S. had 2.4. In the New York population of 8 million, imagine health care with 2,400 fewer physicians.
For 10 years, 10% of doctors trained in Canada decided to practice in the U.S., due to low salaries set by government. Single-payer systems exploit medical labor; Canadian physicians earn 42% of their U.S. counterparts, on average. The average U.S. hospital is 9 years old, compared to 40 years in Canada's largest province of Ontario.
Canada ranks 13th in access to MRIs and 17th in access to CT scanners among the 24 Western nations that guarantee access to health care. This contributes to longer waiting times for diagnostic tests.
Canada's system rations medical procedures and drugs. In 2003, the U.S. performed twice as many in-patient surgeries as Canada, per capita. Only about one-third of the population is eligible for government drug programs in Canada; the rest pay cash or have private insurance.
Canada's cost advantage is an illusion. True, Canada spends less per GDP on medical care than America, but Canadians get relatively little for the money they spend. Canada's single-payer system does not cover many of the advanced medical treatments and technologies that are commonplace in America, and Canadians have access to fewer doctors, fewer treatments and fewer new drugs.
Yet, public health care spending is growing faster than the ability of Canada to pay. As of 2006, public health spending in six of 10 provinces was on pace to consume more than half of revenue from all sources by the year 2020, before considering the added needs of an aging population. As of 2003, the growing unfunded liabilities for health care reached 46% of Canada's GDP.