There’s little to envy about the Canadian health system. Yet, when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., rolled out his single-payer Medicare for All Act on Sept. 13, he pointed to Canada as a model.
The comparison should strike Americans as more than a little troubling. As a native of Canada, I’ve experienced the long wait times and rationed care of that country’s single-payer system. Sanders’ proposal would put even more power in the government’s hands than even the Canadian model. As such, it would subject Americans to even worse quality of care.
Canada’s government-run system still preserves a role for private insurers. The Canada Health Act doesn’t cover prescription drugs, dental care, long-term care, plastic surgery, or vision care. Two-in-three Canadians purchase private insurance to cover these and other services. These plans accounted for 12 percent of the country’s health spending in 2014.
By contrast, Sanders’ bill envisions a single government-funded health plan that covers most of these services, on top of hospital stays and primary and preventive care. The legislation also bars employers and private insurers from offering coverage that in any way competes with the government plan.
Putting government bureaucrats in control of health spending inevitably leads to rationing and long wait times — as Sanders himself is well aware. During a recent episode of Sanders’ podcast, his guest, Canadian Dr. Danielle Martin, admitted that, “if I have a patient who’s got migraines and I need advice about how to manage it, they might wait several months to see a neurologist.”
Last year, in fact, the median wait time for Canadian patients between referral from a primary care doctor and treatment by a specialist was a record-high 20 weeks, more than double the 9.3-week wait time in 1993, according to the Fraser Institute.
Sanders’ plan would put the government in charge of practically all healthcare spending, leading to even worse wait times than what Canadian patients face. As Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Canadian Supreme Court said in 2005 in a court ruling, “Canada has universal coverage but access to a waiting list is not access to health care.”
If the U.S adopts a single-payer system, Americans will also be subject to long waits, rationed care, and lack of access to the latest drugs and treatments. This is not a good prescription.