Canadian health system in decline

Canada's health care system is teetering on the edge, says physician David Gratzer. Overcrowding, rationing medical care by delaying treatment and the use of outdated diagnostic equipment are too common.

  • In its annual survey of 2,315 physicians in 12 different specialties, the Fraser Institute, of Vancouver, B.C., found that in 1999 the average waiting time between an initial visit to a general practitioner and surgical therapy was 14 weeks, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year.

  • Some 67 percent of Canadian specialists say the quality of health care has declined in their country, the highest percentage of all the nations surveyed by the Harvard School of Public Health (see Figure II ).

  • Eight out of 10 Canadians, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, consider the system to be "in crisis."

    What went wrong? Private insurance has been effectively outlawed under Canada's single-payer government health care system, says Gratzer. Since care is free to the patient, demand is infinite. Government deals with this demand by rationing health care through waiting, while costs soar. Spending over the last three years has increased 22 percent.

    Canada could solve much of the problem by placing some of the money spent on public health care in medical savings accounts (MSAs), or allowing Canadians to allocate a certain percentage of their incomes to the accounts, tax-free.

    In the meantime, seven provinces are sending cancer patients to the United States for radiation therapy. And the head of trauma care at Vancouver's largest hospital announced they turn away more cases than any other centre in North America.

    Source: David Gratzer, Canada: A Health Care System on the Edge, Brief Analysis No. 346, February 5, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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    RSA Note:
    The South African health authorities appear to be intent on introducing a fully-fledged national health system over time. Part of the process consists of preventing medical aid schemes from managing risk. Medical schemes, for example, are prohibited from refusing to accept applicants with poor medical histories. This compels the schemes to raise contributions payable by existing members. The predictable end result of such a process is that young and healthy people will refuse to join medical schemes and subsidise the poor risks – thus driving contributions up and making them unaffordable. The fact that Canada has “effectively outlawed” private health insurance indicates that in every country where health policy is driven by ideology rather than concern for patients, the health authorities set out to prevent self-reliance in health-care.

    Eustace Davie, Director, FMF.
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