In the Wall Street Journal today , Canadian physician David Gratzer warns Americans of the long waiting periods that come from state-sponsored health care:

The problems were brought home when a relative had difficulty walking. He was in chronic pain. His doctor suggested a referral to a neurologist; an MRI would need to be done, then possibly a referral to another specialist. The wait would have stretched to roughly a year. If surgery was needed, the wait would be months more. Not wanting to stay confined to his house, he had the surgery done in the U.S., at the Mayo Clinic, and paid for it himself . . . .

Indeed, Canada’s provincial governments themselves rely on American medicine. Between 2006 and 2008, Ontario sent more than 160 patients to New York and Michigan for emergency neurosurgery—described by the Globe and Mail newspaper as “broken necks, burst aneurysms and other types of bleeding in or around the brain.” . . .

Overall, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology last year, five-year cancer survival rates are higher in the U.S. than those in Canada. Based on data from the Joint Canada/U.S. Survey of Health (done by Statistics Canada and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics), Americans have greater access to preventive screening tests and have higher treatment rates for chronic illnesses. No wonder: To limit the growth in health spending, governments restrict the supply of health care by rationing it through waiting. The same survey data show, as June and Paul O’Neill note in a paper published in 2007 in the Forum for Health Economics & Policy, that the poor under socialized medicine seem to be less healthy relative to the nonpoor than their American counterparts.

Gratzer also notes the number of Canadian physicians opening private practices and the British and Swedish governments’ decisions to turn parts of their health care systems over to the private sector—more reasons to be cautious about switching to large, government-sponsored care. But the key sentence of Gratzer’s article is buried in the paragraph above: “To limit the growth in health spending, governments restrict the supply of health care by rationing it through waiting.” Thereby the quest to cure human disease is turned into a war of attrition on human health. And for all the flaws in the current health care regime, that would not be an improvement.

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