Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Centralized Health Care Means More Waiting

Those who pine for a more centralized, single-payer health care system might want to pause and reflect on a new study written by Bacchus Barua, Mark Rovere, and Brett J. Skinner and published by the Fraser Institute. The study is called Waiting Your Turn and documents the wait time for health care in Canada. The authors' key conclusions are summarized as follows:

  • Specialist physicians surveyed across 12 specialties and 10 Canadian provinces report a total waiting time of 19.0 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and elective treatment in 2011—the longest total wait time recorded since the Fraser Institute began measuring wait times in 1993.
  • Patients in Ontario experience the shortest wait (14.3 weeks) followed by British Columbia (19.3 weeks), and Quebec (19.9 weeks)
  • Patients wait longest to undergo plastic surgery (41.6 weeks) and wait least for medical oncology treatment (4.2 weeks)
  • After an appointment with a specialist, Canadians wait nearly 3 weeks longer than what physicians believe is “reasonable” for elective treatment.
  • Throughout the provinces, in 2011 people are waiting for an estimated 941,321 procedures. Assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.8 percent of Canadians are waiting for treatment
  • Only 9.4 percent of patients are on waiting lists because they requested a delay or postponement

As the authors say in their preface, "despite high levels of health expenditure and provincial wait time strategies, it is clear that patients in Canada are waiting too long to receive treatment."

No one can deny that our current health care system is a mess and needs real reform. There is good reason to believe, however, that more centralization and socialization is not the sort of reform needed. Amending a system so that there are even more incentives to increase demand for a good while decreasing supply for a good is a recipe for a shortage. Goods for which there is a shortage are often rationed by waiting which increasingly is what is happening in both Canada and the United States.

HT: Mary Theroux

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