NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Canada's Health Care System is a Model -- For Those Who Like Long Lines

February 13, 2003

Some public voices in the United States are urging us to adopt a national health care system along the lines of the one they have in Canada. It provides free health insurance and pays for almost all medical treatment.

The trouble is that when services are free, people demand more and supplies are insufficient to meet demand. Also, sick people are forced to wait long periods to receive care they need immediately.

  • A recent government study found that 4.3 million Canadian adults had difficulty seeing a doctor or getting a test or surgery done in a timely fashion.
  • Three million were unable to locate a family physician -- a particularly serious situation since it is the family doctor who refers patients to specialists and medical testing.
  • Although Canada spends $66 billion a year on health care, budget cuts have impeded efforts to keep the medical system up to date.
  • Waiting times for some types of surgery now stretch to 20 to 30 weeks or more.

The combination of obsolete or nonexistent technology, a shortage of nurses and inefficient management of hospitals and other facilities add up to long waiting lines and a sort of rationed care system.

The problem is not so bad for the politically powerful and their spouses and friends -- who can break into line anytime. Because many average Canadians realize that, Canada's health care system will be a leading issue in next year's national elections.

Source: Clifford Krauss, "Long Lines Mar Canada's Low-Cost Health Care," New York Times, February 13, 2003.


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