COLUMN: Gunter – Facts on the private-public healthcare debate

- September 24th, 2012

Canadian health care — Kill the myths to save it

by Lorne Gunter

For far too long, we Canadians have been fed a steady diet of myths about our health care system: It’s the world’s finest. It defines us as a nation by showing how much we care. Other countries envy it.

None of that is true.

For instance, if other countries envy our system so much, why is no other developed nation trying to emulate it?

The fact is, for more than a decade most evaluations done by independent reviewers have shown the same thing: the results produced by Canada’s government health monopoly have consistently been in the bottom third among the world’s 30-plus industrialized democracies.

Our politicians are afraid to say so because medicare advocates and many voters insist that faith in our system be seen to be complete and enthusiastic, but we have among the longest waits for specialized treatment in the world. We are slow to approve the use of new technologies and drugs, and slower still to implement them because of bureaucratic central budgeting. We have 25% fewer doctors per capita than most Western nations and fewer nurses and other health workers, yet far more health bureaucrats — as many as 10 times more than Germany, for example.

According to the most recent Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index (ECHCI) published by Winnipeg’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy and based on 2010 figures, Canada is fourth among developed nations in per capita spending on health, yet just 25th out of 34 countries in quality and accessibility of care. (The ECHCI does not include the United States because it has no universal health care system.)

The index’s authors, Canadian researcher Ben Eisen and Swedish economist Arne Bjornberg, report that “only Norway, Switzerland and Luxembourg spend more money per capita,” so “Canada’s poor performance cannot be attributed to inadequate funding.”

It is the way we deliver health care, not the amount we spend on it that leads to rationing of services, delays in treatment and months of needless suffering by patients as they await hip, knee, heart, back, eye and cancer surgeries.

According to Vancouver’s Fraser Institute, waiting times to see a specialist physician and then to have that specialist treat you have grown by 60% over the past 15 years. Those increases have come despite federal and provincial governments pumping an extra $100 billion into health during the same period — still more proof that money is not Canada’s problem.

In study released by Fraser this April, entitled Value for Money from Health Insurance Systems in Canada and the OECD, Canada tied for last among developed countries in number of acute-care hospital beds per 1,000 population, 19th out of 23 countries for practicing doctors, 16th for CT scanners, 14th for MRI machines and just 21st for speed of hip replacements.

And all of this comes at a huge cost to Canadians and their families. Another study from Fraser, released Sept. 20 and called The Price of Public Health Care Insurance, concludes that Canadians pay about 10% of their income each year for health care through their taxes. A family of four with an income of just over $100,000 pays about $11,400 a year in health care taxes. That is more than a comparable American family pays for private insurance since most Americans have all or some of their costs covered by employers.

So why do we Canadians put up with this high-cost, middling care? Why do so many of us place our trust in the government-run monopoly?

The only reason I can think of is fear — fear of the unknown, fear that future care we may need might bankrupt us, fear of so-called two-tier American-style health care.

In the remaining two installments in this series, I hope to show that there are plenty of compassionate models in other countries that both permit private efficiencies to be introduced into the system while preserving everyone’s right to life-saving care regardless of income.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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