Canadians and Brits wait for health care … and wait


Oregonians will vote this fall on a ballot initiative that advocates a virtual government take over of all health care in the state. A look at Canada’s government-run health care system offers insight into the side-effects of such an idea.

To control costs, the Canadian government has rigidly controlled physicians fees, limited the introduction of new technology and curtailed the availability of many services. Moreover, lengthy wait lists for medical procedures are common. The poor are stuck with an indifferent bureaucracy while the better off go elsewhere, particularly the U.S. (when former Quebec Premier Minister Bourassa was diagnosed with cancer, he avoided “free” care in Canada and sought treatment in Cleveland).

The Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia just published its 11th annual waiting list survey. The survey measures how long it takes for Canadians to get treatment after visiting a general practitioner. Things have gotten worse: “Total waiting time between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed, rose from 13.11 weeks in 1999 to 16.2 weeks in 2000-01.” Moreover, an estimated 878,000 Canadians were waiting for treatment in 2000-01, an increase of 3 percent between 1999 and 2000-01.

In the UK, socialistic medicine also fares poorly. Health Care News managing editor Conrad Meier notes, “[T]he British media regularly reports, beneficiaries of the NHS all too frequently don’t get timely care; are subjected to queing for 12 months or more; get better on their own; are sent to other countries for care; are shifted to the private sector for care; or die while on the waiting list to see a doctor or gain access to a hospital.”

When you think about the Oregon government taking over health care, think about sitting at the DMV. Enjoy the wait .

Kurt T. Weber is vice president of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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