Skip to comments.Al'S Brainwave
Posted on 11/15/2002 1:25:07 PM PST by Utah Girl
ABC News is reporting that Al Gore has endorsed a Canadian-style single-payer health system. There's something rather brave about a politician picking up a bold idea like this barely two weeks it was crushingly rejected by the voters of Oregon, one of the country's most liberal states. Brave - or tone-deaf.
But let's not talk politics: Let's talk about the merits of the idea. No question, single-payer has many appealing virtues. It is amazingly hassle-free. No Canadian thinks about health insurance before switching jobs. The self-employed get the same treatment as the employees of the country's biggest bans. There are few forms to fill out, no waiting for checks in the mail. If you are sick, you go to the doctor or hospital, flash your card, and get your medicine.
Or rather - you wait for your medicine. And wait. And wait.
How long can you wait?
Every year Canada's leading free-market think-tank, the Fraser Institute, compiles waiting times across Canada in a report called "Waiting Your Turn." Here are some highlights from this year's edition.
Median waiting time for radiation treatment for breast cancer in province of Ontario: 8 weeks
Median waiting time for angioplasty in the province of British Columbia: 12 weeks
Median waiting time for radiation treatment for prostate cancer in province of Quebec: 12 weeks
Median waiting time for cataract removal in the province of Ontario: 20 weeks.
Median waiting time for cataract removal in the province of Saskatchewan: 52 weeks.
Median waiting time for a tonsillectomy in the province of Saskatchewan: 80 weeks.
Altogether, "the total number of procedures for which people [in Canada] are waiting was 1,094,420 in 2001-2002, an increase of 15% from the estimated 953,420 procedures in 2000-2001." Assuming each person is waiting for only one procedure, that means that 3.52% of the entire population of Canada was waiting for care in 2001-2002.
What do those waits mean? In the case of the patient waiting for an angioplasty, they mean three months of unnecessary pain - three months when the patient cannot work. "Single payer" is an inaptly named system. In Canada, everybody pays for healthcare - the patient pays in pain, the employer pays in lost worker hours - but only the government's costs are counted.
For the patient waiting for a hip replacement or a cornea transplant, the waits mean the difference between full active life or life in a wheelchair or without sight.
For the patient waiting for cancer treatment, waits mean the difference between life and death. Canada's Cancer Advocacy Coalition reports that in Canada's Atlantic provinces, two cancer patients die of colon cancer for every one patient in Utah, Idaho, or Colorado, three states with ethnic makeups similar to those of eastern Canada. Again comparing like with like, while only 6.8 of every 100,000 men in the U.S. wheat belt die of prostate cancer, 9.8 of every 100,000 men die of that disease in Canadian Saskatchewan.
Canadian doctors are highly skilled and conscientious, if sometimes demoralized, and they do the best they can under difficult circumstances. Every Canadian can tell amazing stories of medical achievement under adverse circumstances. But the circumstances are adverse. A decade ago, the Canadian-American science writer Malcolm Gladwell noted that there were then more CAT scanners in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area than in all of Canada, and since then the technology gap has only grown.
Because Canadian doctors earn so much less than their American counterparts, they cannot afford to invest in equipment for their offices. The ultrasounds that every American obstetrician has are seldom found outside of hospitals in Canada. A woman I know - a highly intelligent, well-informed woman with access to the best medicine that Canada offers - got through nine months of pregnancy without her doctor ever discovering that her baby was in breach position. In the United States, the problem would have been discovered early and the baby safely removed by caesarian section; in Canada, it took hours of heroic effort at the very final hour to save the baby's life.
Advocates of single-payer in the United States often complain about American medicine's over-use of tests and technology. In Canada, the government ensures that tests are done much less often and that the results are processed much more slowly. Imagine waiting three weeks for the results of an AIDS test. Or for an analysis of that dark spot on your check. In "single-payer" nobody counts that cost - nor is it permitted to buy yourself a better result.
Well, that last is not quite true. Canadian medicine is in its own way as unequal as American. Cash buys little in Canada - but political influence can get you a better room or a better doctor. And the truly wealthy fly to New York or Dallas or the Mayo Clinic.
How to compare the two systems Canada and the United States? What's the verdict on the Canadian system's convenience and zero out-of-pocket costs against America's often confusing, often costly, administration but superior quality of care? Here's my conclusion: Canada has the best healthcare system on earth - so long as you don't get sick!
Or for an analysis of that dark spot on your check.I can see where a dark spot on my check might be cause for concern.
I'd reckon by 2004 Gore will be promising to abolish private property and give all Bill Gates' money to welfare moms if they will just vote for him.
OREGON TURNED DOWN A SINGLE PAYER SYSTEM 79% TO 21%, Oregon ain't to CONSERVATIVE, but the people in Oregon are smart enough to see the FAILURE of SINGLE PAYER.
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