Canadian national health-care system in trouble

Canada's government-run health-care system is in trouble – as are similar systems in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. But a majority of Canadians tell pollsters they don't want to abandon it for the alternative of competing providers and insurers.

With no particular consensus on how to remedy the system's shortcomings, officials have created a new Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada and appointed Roy Romanow to head it.

Here are some of the problems Romanow, who is also a former premier of Saskatchewan, will confront:

  • Federal and provincial governments combine to pay the system's $63 billion in annual bills – but experts say even that is not enough.

  • Because of overworked, under-equipped hospitals and vast regions without any doctors at all, some Canadians are already being sent at taxpayers' expense to American doctors and hospitals – or go on their own.

  • Canadian medicine is characterized by emergency room triage and long waits for treatment – a lot of it not state-of-the-art at all.

  • For example, the Canadian Medicine Association Journal has reported that 37 percent of patients with cancers were put on hold too long for surgery – from 29 days after referral for colorectal cancers to 64 days for urological cancers.

    It also says that long waits for coronary bypass operations reduced patients' ability to resume normal life and work in the long term.

    Romonow complains that a number of Canadians "are being influenced by what they see and hear on American television, which is usually high-tech medical breakthroughs and high public expectations."

    Source: Barbara Crossette, Canada's Health Care Shows Strains, New York Times, October 11, 2001.

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