During last week’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders called the current U.S. healthcare system “dysfunctional” and “cruel.”
Words like that are more appropriate descriptors of the government-run healthcare systems abroad that Sanders would like to import to the United States.
Take Canada, the closest analog to Sanders’ vision of “Medicare for all.” Canadians face some of the longest waits for medical care on the planet. Last year, the median wait for treatment from a specialist following referral from a general practitioner was nearly 20 weeks. Things were even worse in certain provinces. The median wait in New Brunswick, for example, was 45 weeks — just shy of a year.
Patients in the United Kingdom’s government-run system, the National Health Service, also struggle to access timely care. At the end of August, 4.4 million Brits were waiting to start medical treatment after a referral. In September, more than 282,000 people waited longer than 4 hours in the emergency room to be seen.
Britons with cancer have it particularly bad. In 2017, about 115,000 patients received a diagnosis too late to give them the best chance of getting effective treatment, according to Cancer Research UK. Many patients don’t receive care fast enough.
That poor care has devastating consequences. Only 81% of breast cancer patients in the U.K. survive five years after diagnosis, compared to 89% in the United States. U.S. lung cancer patients have five-year survival rates that are nearly twice as long as those in the U.K.
Long waits for substandard care — that’s the “cruel” and “dysfunctional” reality of government-run healthcare.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care (Encounter). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.