U.S. Seniors Deserve Better Than Canadian Health Care

Seven in 10 Democrats want to establish a Canada-style single-payer health care system. Progressive lawmakers are even more gung-ho.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has introduced a “Medicare for All” bill modeled on Canada’s system. Sixteen of his Democratic colleagues have co-sponsored it. Meanwhile, over 60 percent of Democrats in the House are behind a similar bill.

Before Americans rush to implement Canadian-style health care, they should ask their northern neighbors about life under single-payer. Their answers would surely curb American enthusiasm for the concept.

According to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund, 1 in 3 Canadian seniors isn’t satisfied with the quality of care she receives — a far larger share than in any similar country, including the United States.

One of the reasons they’re unhappy? They have to wait months for care. In Nova Scotia, elderly patients must queue up for more than 600 days for a hip replacement and more than 700 days for a knee replacement. Patients in Manitoba seeking cataract removal, meanwhile, typically wait more than 12 weeks for an appointment with an ophthalmologist and 41 weeks for surgery.

Even Canada’s medical establishment agrees the country’s government-run system is ill-equipped to care for seniors. As a recent report from the Canadian Medical Association put it, “Canada’s healthcare system was not built to meet the challenges of our aging population.”

It can’t even meet the needs of its current population. Across the entire country, the median wait for care from a specialist following referral from a general practitioner was a record 21.2 weeks last year, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. That’s more than double the 9.3-week wait that Canadian patients faced a quarter-century ago.

More than three-quarters of Canadians believe that patients who have been on waiting lists longer than the maximum recommended for their condition should be able to pay for private treatment. Canadian law effectively prohibits them from doing so.

Wait times will worsen as the share of seniors — who utilize above-average amounts of care — grows in the coming years. By 2024, more than 1 in 5 Canadians will be 65 or older. And by 2036, seniors will account for a quarter of the population.

The United States is experiencing a similar demographic shift. Seniors will comprise more than 20 percent of the population by 2030. Yet our admittedly flawed health care system is doing a far better job of caring for older citizens than Canada’s government-run boondoggle.

According to the Commonwealth Fund survey, 3 in 4 of Americans 65 or older are satisfied with the quality of care they receive. That’s a larger share than Australia, France and Canada.

It’s especially telling that American seniors are most satisfied with health care programs that are based on private competition. Medicare Advantage, for instance, offers seniors a choice of private plans that contract with Medicare to provide benefits. In one recent survey, 88 percent of Medicare Advantage participants were satisfied with the overall quality of their coverage. Medicare Part D, which enables seniors to purchase subsidized prescription drug coverage from a range of private providers, enjoys similarly high approval ratings.

There are many things the United States can do to improve care for older patients. Mimicking Canada isn’t one of them.

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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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