Seal the Borders Against Canadian Health Care

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) recently announced his aspirations for bringing universal health coverage to Big Sky Country.

Schweitzer is not the first U.S. governor to stump for a state-funded health care system. Earlier this year, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) signed Green Mountain Care into law and began moving his state toward single-payer.

Both Schweitzer and Shumlin claim that such a system will make health insurance accessible to everyone while controlling health care costs. But that’s not the case. Evidence of the failure of single-payer abounds in Canada, whose big-government approach to health care has proven disastrous for patients.

Given their proximity to our northern neighbor, Schweitzer and Shumlin should know this better than anyone else.

Gov. Schweitzer’s proposal calls for setting up state-run community health clinics to treat Medicaid enrollees, who make up 20% of Montana’s population. He’d then add about 60,000 state employees to that pool — with the goal of eventually offering this “public option” to all residents.

Instead of contracting for specific services with health care providers, as in our conventional health care system, patients would make a co-payment for treatment at these government-funded clinics.

Vermont’s Green Mountain Care would operate similarly. A state-funded and -managed insurance exchange would be open to all residents. A five-member board, appointed by Shumlin, would have responsibility for setting up the state’s systems for delivering care and reimbursing doctors. The goal is the same as in Montana — eventually, all residents would be covered by the state.

Gov. Schweitzer explicitly appealed to Canada’s health care system when outlining his plans. He pointed out all the commonalities between his state and the neighboring province of Saskatchewan — where Canada’s socialized medical system was launched in the 1940s by Premier Tommy Douglas. The full takeover of the Canadian system by the government was completed in the 1980s. The state and the province have similar populations, comparable demographic makeup, and even an average age difference of just two months.

Schweitzer is also quick to compare costs. Saskatchewan’s health bill is just $4 billion, while Montana pays double that. Schweitzer laments the discrepancy, saying that it’s as if “you looked over at a car with a Canadian license plate. They were paying $1 a gallon for gas, and you’re paying $2.”

Schweitzer is forgetting one critically important consideration, however: quality.

Canadians find themselves constantly queuing for health care — resigned to wait lists for surgeries and procedures, for access to cutting-edge health technology available in other countries, and even for appointments with a primary doctor.

The time required for treatment in Canada is nearly three weeks longer than what physicians believe to be “reasonable.” In 2010, according to the annual Fraser Institute survey on wait times, 825,827 Canadians were waiting for procedures.

The average time between referral from a general practitioner and treatment by a specialist is 18.2 weeks across the provinces. And that’s after the time spent securing a GP in the first place. Sixteen percent of the country’s population is currently waiting for a primary doctor.

In Saskatchewan — the model for Montana’s reform efforts — 2,446 residents were waiting for a procedure as of July. Only 64% of procedures were completed within three weeks.

Schweitzer may praise the low price tag of Saskatchewan’s health care, but the province isn’t meeting its target wait times. In the province’s capital city Regina, the average citizen must wait 14 days for an MRI. That’s twice as long as the professed goal of under seven.

And the problem is only worsening. Wait times for surgery are 96% longer than in 1993, even as the Canadian government has increased the amount is spends on health care by 6% each year over the past ten years.

Many Canadians who don’t want to bother with waiting their turn seek treatment in the United States. Residents of Quebec routinely travel south to Vermont for coronary care.

Even the politicians who advocate a public healthcare system suddenly see the merit of American medicine when their own health is in question. Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams famously received heart-valve surgery at Miami’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. Former Member of Parliament Belinda Stronach, an ardent supporter of the Canadian system, chose UCLA for her breast-cancer surgery.

Schweitzer and Shumlin shouldn’t repeat Canada’s mistakes here in America. Single-payer systems won’t solve our healthcare problems — and U.S. leaders should abandon their plans to implement them.


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.

Scroll to Top