Building Back To Canadian Health Care?

Senate Democrats have delayed action on their multi-trillion-dollar Build Back Better Act until the New Year. If it passes, even more people will be dependent on the federal government for health coverage.

It would represent the latest stepping-stone toward single-payer health care, which progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have dreamed of implementing for some time.

New research from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, offers a glimpse of what can happen when the government completely dominates the healthcare market. This year, Canadians faced a median wait of 25.6 weeks—nearly half a year—for medically necessary treatment from a specialist following referral by a general practitioner.

Long waits for subpar care are endemic to single-payer. And those waits are what’s coming to the United States if Democrats are successful in nudging the country toward Medicare for All.

Canadian wait times today are nearly three times longer than they were in 1993, when Fraser began recording them. People are waiting for more than 1.4 million procedures. If we assume one procedure per person, that’s equivalent to 3.7% of the Canadian population on a waiting list.

Canadians also lack access to the latest medical technology. One of the ways the government keeps a lid on healthcare costs is by under-investing in technology. For example, Canada has just 10 MRI machines per 1 million people. The United States, on the other hand, has more than 40.

Our northern neighbor is currently facing a backlog of nearly 328,000 surgeries, according to a new Deloitte report. Clearing it will require $1.3 billion in new taxpayer funding, the consultancy says.

Patients are dying while they wait. The Deloitte report found that delays in care might have contributed to more than 4,000 excess deaths unrelated to COVID-19 between August and December 2020 alone.

Canadians pay dearly for the privilege of waiting. American progressives love to point out that Canadians don’t pay for care at the point of service. So it appears “free.”

But they pay for it on their tax bills. According to research from Fraser, the average family of four paid $15,039 in taxes just to fund the healthcare system this year.

Waiting has an economic cost, too. When people can’t get the care they need, they may not be able to work. They may not be as productive as they were when healthy. Or they may need to leave the workforce to take care of ill relatives.

An April study from Fraser estimated that the value of the hours in the work week that patients lost waiting for care was $2.8 billion in 2020. If we include nights and weekends, the cost of waiting is almost $8.4 billion. Add on the costs borne by caretakers, and the tab is even higher.

It’s no wonder that many Canadians wish they had access to private health care. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians surveyed last month believe they should be able to spend their own money to receive care from a private provider.

But they can’t. The Canadian government has a monopoly on paying for any “medically necessary” care. That means private insurance coverage for such care is illegal.

Build Back Better would give the federal government yet more control over the U.S. healthcare system—and bring progressives’ longtime goal of Medicare for All closer. The latest stats on wait times in Canada show just how steep the cost of single payer can be.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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