NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Canadian Health System In Decline

February 5, 2001

Canada's health care system is teetering on the edge, says physician David Gratzer. Overcrowding, rationing medical care by delaying treatment and the use of outdated diagnostic equipment are too common.

  • In its annual survey of 2,315 physicians in 12 different specialties, the Fraser Institute, of Vancouver, B.C., found that in 1999 the average waiting time between an initial visit to a general practitioner and surgical therapy was 14 weeks, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year.
  • Some 67 percent of Canadian specialists say the quality of health care has declined in their country, the highest percentage of all the nations surveyed by the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Eight out of 10 Canadians, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, consider the system to be "in crisis."

What went wrong? Private insurance has been effectively outlawed under Canada's single-payer government health care system, says Gratzer. Since care is free to the patient, demand is infinite. Government deals with this demand by rationing health care through waiting, while costs soar. Spending over the last three years has increased 22 percent.

Canada could solve much of the problem by placing some of the money spent on public health care in medical savings accounts (MSAs), or allowing Canadians to allocate a certain percentage of their incomes to the accounts, tax-free.

In the meantime, seven provinces are sending cancer patients to the United States for radiation therapy. And the head of trauma care at Vancouver's largest hospital announced they turn away more cases than any other center in North America.

Source: David Gratzer, "Canada: A Health Care System on the Edge," Brief Analysis No. 346, February 5, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.


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