By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Those who would have the U.S. government play a larger role in healthcare like to point to Canada as an example the United States should follow. Their argument, in sum, is that healthcare there is of high quality, is readily available and, because of generous government subsidies, much cheaper. In fact, most Americans know little about the inner workings of the Canadian system other than the anecdotal evidence provided by both sides of the debate. A look at the hard data, however, suggests there is more support for the arguments put forward by the critics of the Canadian system than by those who see it as a model for the United States.
Working off data compiled by The Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, the GOP staff of the congressional Joint Economic Committee assembled this chart to show in visual terms how long Canadian patients have to wait to receive essential healthcare services:
For example, the median clinically reasonable wait time before receiving neurosurgery is 5.8 weeks. In Canada in 2008 it was 31.7 weeks. For gynecology it's 5.6 weeks v. 16.1 weeks. And for internal medicine is 3.3 weeks v. 12.5 weeks. Fraser's hospital waiting list survey measures median waiting times to document the extent to which waiting times for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures are used to control health care expenditures. The report measures the wait times between seeing a general practitioner and a specialist, the time between seeing the specialist and receiving treatment, and the total wait time.
The good news, if there is any, is that Fraser's 2008 study (and they have been collecting data on wait times for 18 years) indicates the median wait time for those patients seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment is down by a full week—from 18.3 weeks in 2007 to 17.3 weeks in 2008. Despite the improvement, however, the Fraser data shows many Canadians are still waiting almost four months (121 days) or more before they can receive treatment.
As the JEC chart indicates, the grass may not be greener over the northern U.S. border.