Waiting times for medically necessary health care services under Canada’s single-payer system have hit a record high, according to a report from the Fraser Institute.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has touted Canada’s single-payer system, saying it is a model the United States should follow. He introduced a “Medicare for All” plan this past September.
“The issue that has got to be studied is how does it happen that here in Canada they provide quality care to all people, and I don’t think there is any debate that the quality of care here is as good or better than the United States, and they do it for half the cost,” Sanders said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) cosponsored Sanders’s bill, saying she believes the measure will bring high-quality and low-cost care to Americans. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) wrote a provisionin Sanders’s bill allowing Americans to buy into a public plan during the transition to single-payer.
The Fraser Institute found that patients under Canada’s single-payer system this year waited an average of 10.9 weeks—roughly two-and-a-half months—from the time they had a consultation with a specialist to the time at which they received treatment. Physicians consider 7.2 weeks to be a clinically reasonable wait time.
The report also found that patients’ wait for treatment after referral to a specialist by their general practitioner was 21.2 weeks, or longer than four months.
“This year’s wait time—the longest ever recorded in this survey’s history—is 128 percent longer than in 1993, when it was just 9.3 weeks,” the report states.
The report, which looks at 10 provinces in Canada, found that there are 1,040,791 patients waiting for procedures. There are also high wait times to receive scans and ultrasounds. Patients waited an average of 10.8 weeks for an MRI scan and 3.9 weeks for an ultrasound.
“Research has repeatedly indicated that wait times for medically necessary treatment are not benign inconveniences,” the report states. “Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish.”
According to the report, patients experience long wait times for surgeries, waiting as long as 41.7 weeks for orthopedic surgery, 32.9 weeks for neurosurgery, and 31.4 weeks for ophthalmology.
“In certain instances, [wait times] can also result in poorer medical outcomes—transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities,” the report states. “In many instances, patients may also have to forgo their wages while they wait for treatment, resulting in an economic cost to the individuals themselves and the economy in general.”
Fraser points out that previous studies have found the lost economic output in waiting for joint replacement surgery, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, MRI scans, and cataract surgery totaled $14.8 billion in 2007.
The report also notes that 46.3 percent of patients would prefer to have their procedure performed within a week if they had the opportunity to do so.
Sally Pipes, a former Canadian and president of the Pacific Research Institute, said one of the incentives for her to come to America was the growing problem with Canada’s health care system.
Pipes’s mother, who lived in Canada, died from colon cancer in 2005 because she couldn’t get a colonoscopy. She finally received one two weeks before she died when she was hemorrhaging.
“Why is it that politicians are out there calling for single payer when we have an example of a real single payer system right north of the border and that 63,500 Canadians go abroad in order to get procedures when they think the wait times are too long?” Pipes asks. “Right now in Canada there’s just over a million Canadians waiting on a waiting list to get a procedure.”
“The thing that is very worrying to me is this rising call for single payer, both at the state level and nationally in the United States by Bernie Sanders and 16 other senators, a number of people in the House—116 House members want Medicare for all and yet in Canada you hear all [these] stories about the waiting times,” she said.
Pipes said Americans would be appalled by the quality of the hospitals and their equipment in Canada and that is because government is calling the shots, which increases wait times and rations care. She says an example of a true single-payer system in the United States is the Veterans Administration.
“We’ve just seen in the last couple of years all of the problems with the VA and the waiting times for our Vets and the lack of access to the latest procedures even under the Veterans Choice Program,” Pipes said. “This is what will happen if Bernie Sanders gets his way.”
“I just can’t imagine that Americans would tolerate waiting 4.1 weeks for a CT scan, 10.8 weeks for an MRI, and 4 weeks for an ultrasound, but that’s what happens when government is the sole provider of your health care,” she said. “Canada spends 11.5 percent of its gross domestic product on health care and in order to keep that number at that level they have to ration care and deny care, and you have long waits.”
Pipes also refutes Sanders’s claim that Canada’s system offers relatively the same quality of care at a cheaper cost.
“It isn’t cheaper because Canadians pay for health care through their taxes,” Pipes explains. “The average Canadian family pays anywhere between $4,000 and $12,000 a year in taxes for a system where they have to wait over five months from seeing a primary care doctor to getting treatment by a specialist.”
“There’s fewer doctors relative to the population than in all but four other industrialized countries,” she said. “It’s last in terms of acute care hospital beds and there’s doctor shortages, residency spots are down, and waiting times—this is what happens when government controls the health care system, and this is what Bernie Sanders wants for the United States.”