NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 15, 2008

Excessive waits for health care services endured by Canadian patients have imposed huge costs on the nation's citizens according to a study from the Centre for Spatial Economics.

Other major findings:

  • The study of medical wait times in all 10 of Canada's provinces found excessive delays for four key procedures--total joint replacement surgery, cataract surgery, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans--cost the nation an estimated $14.8 billion in 2007.
  • This in turn lowered federal and provincial government revenues by a total of $4.4 billion, the report noted.

However, it is individuals who bear these costs.  When the government controls all of health care, it looks for ways to save money, and the easiest way to save is to deny care or ration care through long waits, says Charles M. Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

Rationing care by using waiting lists puts a heavy strain on an economy by incurring high costs through reduced worker productivity, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.  Canadian Medicare uses rationing by waiting because the cost of lost productivity is borne by the individual and employer, whereas the cost of actually providing needed care falls on the public system.

For example:

  • Excessive waiting for total joint replacement surgery was the most expensive byproduct of Canada's health care rationing, at nearly $26,400 per patient.
  • That was followed closely by MRIs ($20,000), coronary artery bypass graft surgery ($19,400), and cataract surgery ($2,900).

Herrick disagrees with the study's policy prescription, saying private care options would be more effective than increased government investment in the system. 

"Canadians should be allowed to pay for care privately if they so choose.  It is unconscionable to forbid patients from paying for care the public system cannot provide them in a timely manner," he says.

Source: Sanjit Bagchi, "Long Waits for Health Care Are Costing Canadians Billions of Dollars," Health Care News, June 1, 2008.

For study: 


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