Wait and suffer: Look at Canada and learn something

What can we learn from our neighbors to the north? How about the dangers of universal (socialized) health care.  In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Nadeem Esmail explains what kind of dangers we would face if President Obama and the Democratic Congress force through more measures like Schip:

Canadians often wait months or even years for necessary care. For some, the status quo has become so dire that they have turned to the courts for recourse. Several cases currently before provincial courts provide studies in what Americans could expect from government-run health insurance.

In Ontario, Lindsay McCreith was suffering from headaches and seizures yet faced a four and a half month wait for an MRI scan in January of 2006. Deciding that the wait was untenable, Mr. McCreith did what a lot of Canadians do: He went south, and paid for an MRI scan across the border in Buffalo. The MRI revealed a malignant brain tumor.

Ontario’s government system still refused to provide timely treatment, offering instead a months-long wait for surgery. In the end, Mr. McCreith returned to Buffalo and paid for surgery that may have saved his life. He’s challenging Ontario’s government-run monopoly health-insurance system, claiming it violates the right to life and security of the person guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When the government pays, there are strings attached, and often we’re the ones who are caught up (or hung) in them. Esmail, who is the director of Health Performance Studies at The Fraser Institute, is based in Calgary. He says that instead of helping the needy members of a society, universal health care like Canada’s instead does most damage to the neediest in a society:

The cases find their footing in a landmark ruling on Quebec health insurance in 2005. The Supreme Court of Canada found that Canadians suffer physically and psychologically while waiting for treatment in the public health-care system, and that the government monopoly on essential health services imposes a risk of death and irreparable harm. The Supreme Court ruled that Quebec’s prohibition on private health insurance violates citizen rights as guaranteed by that province’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The experiences of these Canadians — along with the untold stories of the 750,794 citizens waiting a median of 17.3 weeks from mandatory general-practitioner referrals to treatment in 2008 — show how miserable things can get when government is put in charge of managing health insurance.

In the wake of the 2005 ruling, Canada’s federal and provincial governments have tried unsuccessfully to fix the long wait times by introducing selective benchmarks and guarantees along with large increases in funding. The benchmarks and the guarantees aren’t ambitious: four to eight weeks for radiation therapy; 16 to 26 weeks for cataract surgery; 26 weeks for hip and knee replacements and lower-urgency cardiac bypass surgery.

Canada’s system comes at the cost of pain and suffering for patients who find themselves stuck on waiting lists with nowhere to go. Americans can only hope that Barack Obama heeds the lessons that can be learned from Canadian hardships.

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