Canada’s single-payer healthcare system forced over 1 million patients to wait for necessary medical treatments last year. That’s an all-time record.
Those long wait times were more than just a nuisance; they cost patients $1.9 billion in lost wages, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank.
Lengthy treatment delays are the norm in Canada and other single-payer nations, which ration care to keep costs down. Yet more and more Democratic leaders are pushing for a single-payer system — and more and more voters are clamoring for one.
The leading proponent of transitioning the United States to a single-payer system is Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s firebrand independent. If Sanders and his allies succeed, Americans will face the same delays and low-quality care as their neighbors to the north.
By his own admission, Sen. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill is modeled on Canada’s healthcare system. On a fact-finding trip to Canada last fall, Sanders praised the country for “guaranteeing health care to all people,” noting that “there is so much to be learned” from the Canadian system.
The only thing Canadian patients are “guaranteed” is a spot on a waitlist. As the Fraser report notes, in 2017, more than 173,000 patients waited for an ophthalmology procedure. Another 91,000 lined up for some form of general surgery, while more than 40,000 waited for a urology procedure.
All told, nearly 3 percent of Canada’s population was waiting for some kind of medical care at the end of last year.
Those delays were excruciatingly long. After receiving a referral from a general practitioner, the typical patient waited more than 21 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist. That was the longest average waiting period on record — and more than double the median wait in 1993.
Rural patients faced even longer delays. For instance, the average Canadian in need of orthopedic surgery waited almost 24 weeks for treatment — but the typical patient in rural Nova Scotia waited nearly 39 weeks for the same procedure.
One Ontario woman, Judy Congdon, learned that she needed a hip replacement in 2016, according to the Toronto Sun. Doctors initially scheduled the procedure for September 2017 — almost a year later. The surgery never happened on schedule. The hospital ran over budget, forcing physicians to postpone the operation for another year.
In the United States, suffering for a year or more before receiving a joint replacement is unheard of. In Canada, it’s normal.
Canadians lose a lot of money waiting for their “free” socialized medicine. On average, patients forfeit over $1,800 in lost wages. And that’s only counting the working hours they miss due to pain and immobility.
The Fraser Institute researchers also calculated the value of all the waking hours that patients lost because they couldn’t fully function. The toll was staggering — almost $5,600 per patient, totaling $5.8 billion nationally. And those calculations ignore the value of uncompensated care provided by family members, who often take time off work or quit their jobs to help ill loved ones.
Canada isn’t an anomaly. Every nation that offers government-funded, universal coverage features long wait times. When the government makes health care “free,” consumers’ demand for medical services surges. Patients have no incentive to limit their doctor visits or choose more cost-efficient providers.
To prevent expenses from ballooning, the government sets strict budget caps that only enable hospitals to hire a limited number of staff and purchase a meager amount of equipment. Demand inevitably outstrips supply. Shortages result.
Just look at the United Kingdom’s government enterprise, the National Health Service, which turns 70 this July. Today, British hospitals are so overcrowdedthat doctors regularly treat patients in hallways. The agency recently canceledtens of thousands of surgeries, including urgent cancer procedures, because of severe resource shortages. And this winter, nearly 17,000 patients waited in the backs of their ambulances — many for an hour or more — before hospital staff could clear space for them in the emergency room.
Most Americans would look at these conditions in horror. Yet Sen. Sanders and his fellow travelers continue to treat the healthcare systems in Canada and the UK as paragons to which America should aspire.
Sen. Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal would effectively ban private insurance and force all Americans into a single, government-funded healthcare plan. According to Sen. Sanders, this new insurance scheme would cover everything from regular check-ups to prescription drugs and specialty care, no referral needed — all at no charge to patients.
Americans shouldn’t fall for these rosy promises. As Canadians know all too well, when the government foots the bill for healthcare, patients are the ones who pay the biggest price.