Private Vs. The Canadian Public Health Care

Is the single payer health care system offered in Canada as efficient as the free-market option? 


By Mark Tordai.

Being from Canada, I’m constantly reminded of how great the Canadian health care system is. I’m told it’s great, perfect, and that it’s the best in the world. Canadian politicians, on both the left and the right, as well as many of those in the media, constantly tell the Canadian public that we have no problems in our system and if we do, it just means that the government needs to take a bigger role in its facilitation. I’ve heard these claims all of my life but could people in Canada just be wrong? What if the Canadian health system isn’t so great and what can we learn from other countries who don’t have the same problems that we have in Canada?

First of all, it’s true. A large number of Canadians are more than satisfied with the Canadian health care system. Truth be told though, most Canadian have lived in Canada their entire life. Those like me, who have left Canada and lived in other countries, can see how disorganized and poorly run the Canadian health care system is. How do we know? Because we have lived a part of our lives – for me it was 5 and a half years – in countries that do health care much better than Canada.

For example, in Canada there are no out of pocket costs for those who visit hospital emergency room or clinics as well family doctors and specialists. We also don’t pay for blood tests, MRI’s, X-Rays and most surgeries. This is called a Public Single Payer health care system and Canada is the only nation in the world with this type of health care structure.

Many Canadians love this system because they don’t have to think about health care and believe that in this environment, no one is left behind. But I strongly disagree with most who feel this way because in all the other countries I have lived in, no one I knew worried about their health care and saw no one left behind.

Patients line up on hospital beds outside the crowded emergency room at Montreal's Sacre Coeur Hospital Thursday, Nov. 28, 2002. After several years of progress, it appears some provinces are slipping in their quest to reduce the time it takes to receive a number of benchmark medical treatments. - http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/20/wait-times-on-the-rise-in-canadian-hospitals/

Patients line up on hospital beds outside the crowded emergency room at Montreal’s Sacre Coeur Hospital. http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/20/wait-times-on-the-rise-in-canadian-hospitals/

One of the biggest disadvantages to the Canadian health care system comes in the massively, long lines and wait times that Canadians will endure in order to see doctors.

It’s not uncommon to wait in an emergency room for over 4 hours, and in some cases the wait can last as long as 18 hours or more. This is mainly due to a limit each province gives on how many doctors they can hire each year. This type of situation is something that doesn’t happen in any other developed nation.

While emergency rooms lines are long, wait times to see specialists are not too far behind. If one is lucky, the wait to see an ear, nose and throat doctor, a Rheumatologist, Endocrinologist, Urologist or any other specialist will take up to 3 months. In worst case scenarios, one may only see a specialist in 9 months to 1 year.

canada healthcare

Most Canadians however, will claim this system is better than the U.S. system, which many Canadians think is one of constant neglect and chaos. They think greedy, evil private health insurance companies and hospitals charge the cost of a house for a minor surgery. However, most Canadians have no grasp on reality on what private health care really is, other than when taking out private insurance to cover visits to the dentists and optometrists, which the government plan doesn’t pay for.

The stereotype of the American streets running red with the blood of the poor while some greedy C.E.O. sits in their office counting a wad of money is perpetuated by the Canadian media. They themselves need to understand that there are more than two countries in the world, which means that there is more than two ways to do health care.

The most important question is, how does Canada stack up to other develop nation health care wise? The World Health Organization lists Canada as having the 30th best health system in the world. Considering that there are around 196 nations, being number 30 is pretty good. Also consider that the U.S. is listed as 37 and Canadians will take that as a sign of exceptionalism. On the other hand, that also means that there are 29 countries that are doing it better than we are in Canada and when you look deeper in these other systems, you see a correlation. That means that these countries give the public access to private health care.

Canada has no private hospitals. In fact, it’s also illegal to buy a diagnostic image machine like an MRI and charge customers for its use even if a customer is willing to pay. Yes, I said the word illegal. You can be charged with a crime and fined.

There’s simply no way to leave the long lines at public hospitals, go somewhere else and get faster care. This is unlike every single developed nation on Earth. Of the 29 other countries that do health care better than Canada, approximately 27 of them have a Two-Tier system, also known as a blended system of offering both private and public health insurance that covers injury and illness in both private and public hospitals. Two countries, Switzerland and Netherlands, have what is called a Private Mandated system in which the government mandates all residents to have health care but instead of offering public insurance, dozens of companies compete for your business and offer full private health insurance that can be claimed in both private and public hospitals.

While Canada certainly beats America as far as health care is concern, the system here is far from perfect nor is it even close to being the best in the world. The idea of universal health care is a good one. I don’t want to live in a world where people are denied access to health care but I also don’t want to live in Canada anymore as the lines I have to endure are getting too long when I know that other nations don’t have the same problems as here.

Plenty of nations that do health care better include Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Germany, Switzerland, France, Norway and more. All of these nations deliver health care without long lines in emergency rooms, there are no limits on hiring doctors and they all have higher rated systems than both the Canada and the United States.

My optimum health care system is one where the poor are taken care of but one where there is no government monopoly of services. One where entrepreneurs and innovators are not charged inhumane fines and treated like criminals for finding a better way to offer people good affordable health care options. For this reason, I’m told I’m not Canadian and am a traitor. I respond that I’ve just been lucky enough to live outside this country and understand that just because my country’s been doing something wrong for decades, it doesn’t mean the wrong is somehow right just because I have other references.

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