Cheryl Gilarski has had enough health problems to last a lifetime.
The 60-year-old Canadian recently shared her story with the CBC, Canada’s national broadcasting company. Her troubles began two decades ago, when doctors diagnosed her with an atrial flutter, a condition that causes the heart to beat rapidly and irregularly. Years ago, she received a procedure called a cardiac ablation that restored her heart’s normal rhythm. When the flutter came back last year, her cardiac specialist prescribed a second ablation but told her she’d have to wait 16 months for the procedure.
While she waited, Gilarski was forced to make frequent trips to the hospital to have her heart shocked back to a normal rhythm. On one of those visits, she waited 11 hours for treatment. The next day, she suffered a stroke, which left her ineligible for the ablation procedure she was awaiting.
Stories like these are unfortunately common in Canada’s government-run health care system. They are exactly why U.S. patients should resist attempts by progressives to eliminate private insurance and import Canadian-style health care, in the form of Medicare for All, to this country.
Long waits are unavoidable in single-payer systems like Canada’s. By making health care free, single-payer stokes patient demand for care. To contain costs, governments cut payments to doctors and hospitals. That leads to staff shortages and closures. Rationing of care is the inevitable result.
Last year, Canadian patients waited a median of 19.8 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist after getting a referral from a general practitioner, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. That’s more than double the median wait in 1993. In some specialties, patients can wait the better part of a year for care. The median wait for elective orthopedic surgery last year, for example, was 39 weeks from referral.
Wait times are particularly bad for the elderly. More than 2 million Canadians 55 and older report “significant barriers when accessing the health care system.” One-third of elderly patients waited more than six months for surgery, while close to one-quarter waited that long to see a specialist.
Manitoba — Gilarski’s home province — has some of the longest waits in the country. In 2018, patients there waited a median of 230 days for knee replacement surgery, 186 days for a hip replacement, and 167 days for cataract removal, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
The wait list for cardiac surgery in Manitoba nearly doubled between late 2018 and early 2019, according to the CBC. During a single week in February, doctors cancelled 75% of scheduled heart surgeries in the province because of staff shortages.
Other countries with single-payer health care systems force their patients to endure similar waits. In England, nearly 4.5 million people were waiting for hospital care at the end of June. This past July, 275,000 emergency room patients waited more than four hours to be seen. That marks a 32% jump from the same time last year.
Even getting an appointment with a family doctor can be a hassle. As in Canada, Britain is plagued by a shortage of doctors as low pay and long hours drive practitioners out of medicine. Last October, 1 in 5 Brits waited over two weeks to see a general practitioner.
The experiences of patients in Canada and the United Kingdom provide plenty of evidence for skepticism of a government takeover of the U.S. health insurance system. Just because the government promises free, quality care doesn’t mean it can deliver it.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care” (Encounter). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.