June 19, 2024

Serene Nest

taking care of your health, Our Mission

Canadian Health Care Leaves Patients Frozen In Line

3 min read

More than one-fourth of Americans receive taxpayer-funded health coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the latest federal estimates.

But that “free” coverage has a significant cost. Medicaid beneficiaries must wait longer for care than those with private insurance. A study from 2021 found that Medicaid patients waited 1.3 days longer than commercially insured ones for primary care.

According to another study, Medicaid beneficiaries were 1.6 times less likely to successfully schedule a primary care appointment than those with primary insurance—and 3.3 times less likely to secure an appointment with a specialist.

Such waits are endemic to public health insurance. A new research paper from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, shows what happens when everyone within a country is trapped in a public health insurance system.

This year, Canadian patients faced a median wait of 27.7 weeks for medically necessary treatment from a specialist after being referred by a general practitioner. That’s over six months—the longest ever recorded. It’s a slight increase from last year’s median wait—and a 198% increase from the 9.3-week median wait that patients faced in 1993, the year that Fraser began tracking wait times.

Some patients have it worse than others. Patients in Nova Scotia face a median wait of 56.7 weeks—more than a year—for specialist treatment following referral by a general practitioner. Those on Prince Edward Island are also in the year-long waiting club—a median of just over 55 weeks.

Patients face the longest post-referral wait for plastic surgery, a median delay of just over 52 weeks. Orthopedic and neurosurgery are close behind, with media waits of just over 44 and 43 weeks, respectively.

Across the board, patients waited a median of just under five weeks more than what doctors say is “clinically reasonable” to receive treatment from a specialist after securing a referral. Such long delays for treatment can put patients’ health at risk, as can similarly long waits for diagnostics. In 2023, Canadians faced a median wait of around 13 weeks for an MRI, 6.6 weeks for a CT scan, and just over 5 weeks for an ultrasound.

All told, more than 1.2 million Canadians, out of a population of 38 million, were waiting for some form of treatment in 2023. If each of those patients is waiting for just one procedure, that means 3% of the Canadian population was waiting to receive medical care this year. In Nova Scotia, just over 8% of the provincial population was stuck in line.

These delays hurt more than just individual patients. Looking only at the number of work hours people lost while in line for care, the Fraser study determined that healthcare waits cost Canada just under $3,000 per person—$3.6 billion total—in 2022. Consider all the hours in a week, and medical waits cost the country $10.9 billion—just under $9,000 per patient.

Other studies have found that delays for a select number of diagnostics and treatments cost the economy about $15 billion annually.

Then there are the direct costs associated with all this waiting. The average Canadian family of four paid about $17,000 in taxes to fund the country’s “free” healthcare system in 2023. Their tax dollars appear to just buy them a place in line.

Many Canadians are fed up. Less than half were satisfied with the country’s healthcare system in 2023, down from nearly 70% in 2020. A growing number of politicians, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have begun speaking out about the problems with socialized medicine and working to help patients access private alternatives.

Democrats have made expanding Medicaid the centerpiece of their approach to health reform. Over the last decade-plus, they’ve had quite a bit of success, as enrollment has increased 57%.

The progressive wing of the party is still pining for Medicare for All, a complete government takeover of the health insurance system that would import Canadian-style health care to the United States. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.—who has mounted a primary challenge to President Biden—recently endorsed Medicare for All.

But expanding access to coverage is not the same as expanding access to care. Canadians know that truth all too well, as their government insurance card just buys them a monthslong wait for care.

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