“Single-payer” Health Care Requires Evermore Patient Patients

Those hoping ObamaCare will soon lead to a “Single-payer” plan such as Canada’s might want to look through the most recent annual report on wait times for health care in Canada just released by the Fraser Institute.

Among other findings in “Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2011 Report:”

Specialist physicians surveyed across 12 specialties and 10 Canadian provinces report a total waiting time of 19.0 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and elective treatment in 2011—the longest total wait time recorded since the Fraser Institute began measuring wait times in 1993.

The definition of “elective” goes far beyond plastic surgery, referring to procedures few of us would willingly “elect,” including Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Internal Medicine, Urology, Elective Cardiovascular Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Neurosurgery, General Surgery, Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology, and Gynecology. You’ll be relieved to know that patients must wait “only” an average 1.2 weeks for urgent cardiovascular surgery.

There’s also some question of the quality of care available in Canada, even if one can wait, as evidenced by the well-publicized choice of a Canadian Premier to have his heart surgery in the U.S. last year.

Tests we now undergo virtually on demand will likely also become a longed-for dream as we suffer and wait for diagnoses. A friend whose medical condition puzzles her doctors recently underwent a series of three ultrasounds on same-day bases; and an MRI on her choice of several days after calling for an appointment. In British Columbia, the Canadian province most like California, she would have waited 4 weeks for an ultrasound (presumably waiting 4 additional weeks for each of the follow-ups); and 16 weeks for the MRI.

No one denies that the U.S. healthcare system is badly broken, beginning with the introduction of employer-provided (3rd-party payer) health insurance as a work-around to World War II wage and price controls, and ever-higher premiums correlating with ever-expanding government involvement in the sector—evidence that would seem to call for less government involvement, not more.

We “baby boomers,” now entering the age at which we can anticipate needing increasing amounts of health care, yet unfortunately spoiled by lifelong experience with “on demand” access to health care, will likely find it especially trying to accept a Brave New World in which we, unlike our parents, are not immediately booked into life-saving or ameliorative surgery. Will we consequently overthrow the tyranny of healthcare as “Made in D.C.,” or quietly acquiesce to the drumbeat propaganda that increased wait times and death rates are the price for “fairness”?

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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