Long Waits Cost Canadians Millions

The national median waiting time in Canada from specialist appointment to treatment increased from 8 weeks in 2009 to 9.3 weeks in 2010. But the measurement of waiting times, or the examination of the absolute delay Canadians must endure in order to receive medically necessary care, is only one way of looking at the burden of waiting for health care. We can also calculate the privately borne cost of waiting: the value of the time that is lost while waiting for treatment, says Nadeem Esmail, the Fraser Institute's former Director of Health System Performance Studies and Manager of the Alberta Policy Research Center.

Esmail's estimation of the cost of waiting in 2010 uses a Statistics Canada finding that 11 per cent of people were adversely affected by their wait for non-emergency surgery in 2005.

  • This results in an estimate that nearly 1.13 million weeks were "lost" while patients waited for treatment.
  • However, because this estimate is based on the assumption that all individuals face the same wait time for treatment in each specialty/province combination, it is mathematically equivalent to assuming that 11 per cent of the productivity of all Canadians waiting for care was lost to a combination of mental anguish and the pain and suffering that accompany any wait for treatment.

    Multiplying this lost time by an estimate of the average weekly wage of Canadians in 2010 gives an estimate of the cost of the productive time that was lost while individuals waited for medically necessary treatment in 2010.
  • The estimated cost of waiting for care in Canada was roughly $10,043 for each individual among the 11 per cent of patients in the queue.
  • That works out to roughly $912 million in lost productivity and leisure time.

    This estimate assumes that only those hours during the average work week should be counted as lost. Valuing all hours of the week, including evenings and weekends but excluding eight hours of sleep per night, at the average hourly wage would increase the estimated cost of waiting to more than $2.79 billion, or about $3,384 per person.

    Source: Nadeem Esmail, The Private Cost of Public Queues, Fraser Institute, March/April 2011.

    For text: http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/articles/private-cost-of-public-queues-march2011.pdf

    For more on Health Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=16

    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 28 June 2011
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