A study released on Canada’s socialized medical system reveals that the average patient spends over 16 weeks – in some cases more than twice as long as doctors deem “reasonable” – waiting for health-care treatment, costing both estimated thousands of dollars per year per patient and, potentially, lives.

“The promise of the Canadian health-care system is not being realized,” concludes the 19th annual study released by the independent Fraser Institute. “This grim portrait is the legacy of a medical system offering low expectations cloaked in lofty rhetoric.”

Corresponding “lofty rhetoric” in the United States has touted government-regulated and -mandated health care as a way of closing a medical-coverage gap between the rich and poor.

The Fraser study, titled “Waiting Your Turn,” however, found that even with government attempts to level the playing field, poor and rural residents in Canada are routinely denied what doctors consider even adequate care.

“On the contrary, a profusion of research reveals that cardiovascular surgery queues are routinely jumped by the famous and politically-connected, that suburban and rural residents confront barriers to access not encountered by their urban counterparts, and that low-income Canadians have lower cardiovascular and cancer survival rates than their higher-income neighbors,” the study concluded.

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For example, in the more densely populated province of Ontario, the study found patients waiting 12.5 weeks from the time their general practitioner recommended specialist care until the time it was administered. But in more rural Newfoundland and Labrador, patients could expect to wait more than six months (27.3 weeks) on average.

The study found the total number of procedures Canadians waiting for in 2009 reached 694,161.

Furthermore, the report asserted, Canada’s problems with patient waits aren’t for a lack of government funding.

After accounting for the age of the nation’s population, the report states, Canada ranked second (in 2005) in health spending among the world’s developed countries offering universal-access, public-health-care systems.

And by comparing a 2000 study of Canadian provinces against a follow-up analysis in 2003, the report claims, “Increased spending was actually correlated with increases in waiting times.”

Other claims and findings of the study included the following:

  • On average, patients waited over 2 months from seeing their general practitioner to seeing a specialist and another 2 months to receive actual treatment.
  • The shortest wait from general practitioner to actual treatment was for cancer radiation therapy, an average wait of only 4.8 weeks. Patients needing orthopedic surgery, however, such as hip replacements, could be expected to wait 33.7 weeks – longer than six months – on average.
  • Internal-medicine patients had to wait nearly two months for treatment, more than twice as long as a survey of Canadian doctors considered “reasonable.”
  • Waiting times exceeded what the doctors considered clinically “reasonable” for 79 percent of all forms of treatment.
  • Since 1993, total waiting times have grown 73 percent longer.
  • Citing other studies, the report claims Canadians wait longer than Americans, Germans and Swedes for cardiac care, although not as long as New Zealanders or British.
  • Also citing other studies, the report contends this waiting time is estimated to cost patients annually $1,100 to $5,600.
  • Waiting times on psychiatric treatments were even worse, with Canadians on average compelled to wait 1.5 times as long as doctors considered “reasonable” for treatment. In the worst-case scenario, patients with sleeping disorders in Saskatchewan were compelled to wait nine times as long as what doctors considered “reasonable” for treatment.

And while the report itself referred to the waiting times as “the medical system’s most curable disease,” the study compared doctors’ opinions to the government’s guidelines and discovered that for the most part, Canada’s legislators don’t see the waits as a problem.

“Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments agreed to a set of common benchmarks for medically necessary treatment on December 12, 2005,” the report explains.

Across five categories of common treatments – radiation therapy, hip replacements, knee replacements, cataract surgery and cardiac bypasses – the government’s benchmarks were roughly twice as long as the doctors’ median “reasonable” wait times, with actual median wait times falling between the two.

“Two observations arise from this comparison,” the report concludes. “First, Canada’s physicians tend to have a lower threshold for reasonable wait times than do Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments. Second, median wait times in many provinces are already within the benchmarks set by governments in Canada, which means that more than 50 percent of patients in these provinces are already being treated in a time frame that provincial governments would consider ‘reasonable.'”

The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization whose stated mission is to “measure, study and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.”

According to the report, the institute’s work is financed by tax-deductible contributions from individuals, organizations and foundations, and it refuses to accept government grants or contracts for research “in order to protect its independence.”

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