The false promise of single-payer healthcare

Government-run, single-payer health care is back in vogue. It’s the left’s favored fallback as ObamaCare fails. And the Senate just held a hearing on single-payer systems in other countries — with no shortage of witnesses touting the supposed benefits.

As ObamaCare continues to disappoint, some states are pushing for a single-payer replacement within their borders. Vermont is working to create such a system; Hawaii’s governor has singled out single-payer as the only potential replacement for his state’s failing exchange. And legislators have offered up proposals to institute single-payer in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Colorado.

Single-payer’s cheerleaders cite Canada as proof of the system’s superiority. It’s a foolish fetish: Our northern neighbor’s health-care system is plagued by rationing, long waits, poor-quality care, scarcities of vital medical technologies and unsustainable costs. That’s exactly what’s in store for America if we follow Canada’s lead.

As a native of Canada, I’ve seen this reality firsthand. To keep a lid on costs, Canadian officials ration care. As a result, the average Canadian has to wait 4½ months between getting a referral from his primary-care physician to a specialist for elective medical treatment — and actually receiving it.

Mind you, “elective treatment” in Canada doesn’t mean Botox or a tummy tuck. We’re talking about life-or-death procedures like neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery or cardiovascular surgery.

Bostonians face the longest wait times for an appointment in America, according to Merritt Hawkins, a consultancy. That’s no surprise, given that Massachusetts essentially enacted ObamaCare in 2006, four years before it went national. Even so, the average wait in Boston is 45.4 days — about three months less than in Canada.

But you can bet the waits in Beantown are getting longer, as the effects of the government-heavy system continue to kick in. Canada’s wait times are certainly growing: That average 18-week delay for “elective” referals is 91 percent longer than in 1993.

There’s also a severe shortage of essential medical equipment. Canada ranks 14th among 22 OECD countries in MRI machines per million people, with an average wait time to use one at just over eight weeks. Canada ranks a dismal 16th in CT scanners per million people, with an average wait time of over 3.6 weeks.

The United States ranks second in MRI machines per-capita, and fifth in CTs.

Every Canadian is technically “guaranteed” access to health care. But long waits and the scarce resources leave many untreated.

When people aren’t treated in a timely fashion, their conditions worsen, which often means significantly more expensive and extensive treatments. The Center for Spatial Economics, a Canadian research outfit, estimates that wait times for just four key procedures — MRI scans and surgeries for joint replacement, cataracts and coronary-artery-bypass grafts — cost Canadian patients $14.8 billion a year in excess medical costs and lost productivity.

Nor is Canadians’ treatment close to “free”: Patients may only have to pay a nominal fee when they get treatment. But the typical Canadian family pays about $11,300 in taxes every year to finance the public-insurance system.

Vermont is learning this high-tax reality firsthand. One Democratic state representative has admitted that its single-payer system will “cost more” than the initial estimate of $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion a year. Avalere Health, a consultancy, estimates that the state will have to essentially double its tax revenue to pay for the system.

Because of the low quality of care and long waits in their home country, many Canadians come to the United States for medical attention — over 42,000 in 2012.

Many of these are part of Canada’s political elite. Single-payer may be good enough for their constituents, but it’s apparently not good enough for them.

In 2010, the premier of Newfoundland flew to Florida for heart-valve surgery. Questioned about the decision, he said, “This was my heart, my choice and my health.” Millions of ordinary Canadians would surely love to have that option.

Anne Doig, former head of the Canadian Medical Association, has called the system “sick” and “imploding.” Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon in Vancouver who runs the private Cambie Clinic, has quipped that Canada is a country where a dog can get a hip replacement in less than a week — but his owner would have to wait two years.

Canada’s single-payer system isn’t one America should long for — it’s one we should strenuously avoid.

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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