Fraser Forum

Canadians are (and should be) worried about health care

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A recent EKOS opinion poll summarized the palpable dissatisfaction with Canada’s health-care system rather well in its title, “Canadians Worried Sick about Health Care.”

And they should be.

Canada ranks as one of the most expensive universal health-care systems in the world (especially after adjusting for age). However, on indicator after indicator, we’re just not getting good value for our money.

For example, among OECD countries with universal access, Canada ranked close to the bottom of the pack for availability of practicing doctors per thousand population (25 of 27), and below the OECD average for availability of MRI scanners per million population (16 of 24). Canada also consistently ranks dead-last on most measures of timeliness of care in the Commonwealth Fund’s comparison with 10 other countries.

Moreover, the Fraser Institute’s annual wait time survey reported that the median wait between referral to treatment was 18.2 weeks last year. This wait time is 96 per cent longer than the 9.3 week wait Canadians faced in 1993 (when the Fraser Institute began measuring national wait times). This is clearly not a new problem—but rather a bad situation that has gradually gotten worse over time.

So the fundamental question is: why has nothing changed?

One reason may relate to the fact that respondents to the EKOS poll cite “Medicare” as the second most important symbol contributing positively to a sense of Canadian identity (right behind “Freedom”). This suggests that it doesn’t matter how badly the system is doing, the solution can never be anything else.

This mindset needs to change.

Instead of identifying with the “system” of Medicare, we should simply focus on the goal of ensuring that patients get timely access to quality care (regardless of ability to pay). Luckily, we have several examples in Europe in the form of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany to show us the way. They may not run a government monopoly on the funding and delivery of health-care services like Canada, but unlike our patients, their patients receive the health care they need, without lengthy delays, regardless of ability to pay.

Shouldn’t we at least try and do the same—even if it means getting government out of the way?


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