NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Costs Of "Free" Health Care In Canada

January 28, 2000

Since Canada embarked on its program of "free" care and low-cost pharmaceuticals, there have been some disturbing developments in its health care statistics, say experts.

  • The disability-free life expectancy for female Canadians had fallen to 63.8 years in 1991 from 66.1 years in 1978, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Waiting times for patients to see specialists or obtain surgery have become so long that Toronto-area hospitals now ask patients to sign a legal release holding the hospital blameless if delays in their access to treatment jeopardizes their health.
  • Canada ranks 21st among OECD countries in availability of CT scanners, 19th in availability of MRIs, sixth in availability of cancer radiation machines -- although it ranks fifth in terms of overall spending on health care.
  • A survey of teaching hospitals in British Columbia, Washington state and Oregon revealed that at least 18 surgical and diagnostic procedures readily available in the U.S. are not available in Canada.

Price controls on drugs sold in Canada undoubtedly hold down their costs. But many drugs available in the U.S. and Europe are delayed entry to the Canadian market. In fact, one Canadian newspaper asserts that a government study -- not made public -- had catalogued deaths in Quebec resulting from the lack of availability of lifesaving drugs.

Yet while Canada tries to hold down drug costs, it wastes money in other health areas. A recent comparison of wages for unionized hospital employees and unionized workers at private hotels found that hospital grounds keepers were paid 40 percent more, hospital painters 63.3 percent more and hospital cooks 28.9 percent more than their hotel counterparts.

Source: William MacArthur (Fraser Institute), "Memo to Al Gore: Canadian Medicine Isn't Cheap or Effective," Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2000.


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