At the October 15 Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Under the Medicare for all bill that I wrote, premiums are gone. Co-payments are gone. Deductibles are gone. All out-of-pocket expenses are gone. We’re going to do better than the Canadians do, and that is what they have managed to do.”
If he’d been subject to Canadian-style health care, he might not have been on that stage.
About two weeks before the debate, Sen. Sanders complained of chest pains. He went to the emergency room, where doctors discovered that one of his arteries was blocked. Just hours later, Sen. Sanders received an angioplasty—a procedure to clear the artery. Within days, he was back on the campaign trail.
This kind of immediate, high-quality treatment is routine in the United States. Whether the patient is wealthy or poor, has insurance or not, is irrelevant. The care comes first, and the result is countless lives saved.
But that’s often not the case in Canada, which adopted its brand of “Medicare for All” decades ago. There, patients in need of medical attention—even those in need of urgent care—have to wait. And wait. And wait.
Canada’s waiting woes date back decades. A 1995 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that two-thirds of patients in the United States who needed an urgent coronary angiography test—which reveals blockages in the arteries—got it within 24 hours. None did in Canada. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Canadians had to wait more than three days—just for the test.
The situation has not improved in the years since. There, the median wait for an angioplasty is 3 to 11 weeks, depending on the province. That’s after an appointment with a specialist, according to a report on wait times by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
Patients in need of other cardiac procedures also face absurdly long waits. In British Columbia, for example, patients face a median wait of two weeks for “urgent” coronary artery bypass surgery—and one week for “emergent” coronary artery bypass surgery. The median wait for urgent pacemaker operations in the province is three weeks.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the median wait for urgent coronary artery bypass and aneurysm surgery patients is two weeks.
Many patients don’t survive those waits. From January through April of this year, a dozen cardiac patients in Quebec died while waiting for surgery.
Long waits aren’t the only problem. Just getting to a medical facility can be difficult. More than one-third of Canadians over the age of 40 have to travel an hour or more to find a medical facility that can perform an angioplasty, according to a study published in the medical journal Open Medicine. Fewer than 20% of U.S. adults would have to go that far.
That’s because Canada has one such facility for every 595,000 people. In the United States, there is one for every 176,000 people.
Many of Canada’s emergency departments also provide substandard care. A 2016 report from the Commonwealth Fund found that three in ten Canadians waited four or more hours in the emergency room. In Quebec, more than half of ER patients had to wait that long.
In the United States, only one in ten patients had to withstand those sorts of waits.
That same Commonwealth Fund report found that 59% of our neighbors to the north had to wait more than four weeks to see a specialist after they were advised or decided to do so. In the United States, that figure is 25%.
The last thing Americans should pine for is Canada’s socialized healthcare system. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people, should understand that by now.