Side shot of banner at a press conference advocating reform of Ohio's healthcare system.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ProgressOhio

Yesterday, the Canadian Institute for Health Information released their report on wait times for several common health procedures across Canada. You can find the wait times table at the CIHI web site. The report studied the length of time between the “booking time”, which was defined as the time that a doctor and patient agree that a procedure is necessary, and the start of the service. Among the procedures studied were cataract surgery, coronary bypass surgery, cancer radiation treatments and joint replacement. The results are eye-opening, if you buy into the myth that single-payer, nationalized health care invariably results in longer wait times for necessary health care.

To wit:

More than 75% of patients requiring cancer radiation treatment received that treatment within 28 days of being ready to treat. Let me give you a comparison here – my dad was diagnosed with melanoma in November. If he had been diagnosed in Canada, there is a better than 75% chance that treatment of that cancer would have started before Christmas. Here in the U.S., a guy with the kind of health insurance he has (read: excellent) should have been treated well within that time frame, right? His actual date of treatment: April 15. That’s right, here in the US, where we supposedly don’t have the nasty wait times brought on by nationalized health care, he waited four months longer for treatment than he would have waited in Canada.

How about cataract surgery? The Canadian benchmark for cataract surgery is 16 weeks – within 112 days of the “booking time”. The data shows that 50% of the patients referred for cataract surgery in Canada have that surgery within 38 to 78 days. Ninety percent have the procedure performed within 199 days. In five of the eight provinces reporting, more than 75% of those waiting for cataract surgery have it performed within the benchmark 112 days. It’s another place where I have some personal experience. My mother had cataract surgery on April 17. She was referred in early January for that surgery. In other words, if she lived in Saskatchewan, there’s a 50% chance that she would have had that surgery done and out of the way by Valentines Day. In fact, in almost every single one of the provinces, there’s a better than 75% chance that she would have had her cataracts removed sooner.

I don’t think my parents are the exception to the rule, either. I suspect that if we looked at things more closely, we’d find out that in fact, we ALREADY wait at least as long if not longer for most typical health care services as do those people covered by universal nationalized health care in other countries. In addition, nearly every report that I’ve seen points out that our health care, overall, is lower quality than the overall standard of health care in those other countries. And – we pay more. We pay for it out of pocket. We pay for it in health insurance premiums – and then we pay even more out of pocket in co-pays, exclusions and spend-downs.

So I guess the question is – why are we so invested in maintaining the fiction that health care reform results in substandard care and longer wait times, when all the evidence points to the exact opposite conclusion?


This entry was posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 4:22 pm and is filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Comments so far

  1. Alex on August 8, 2009 12:31 am

    Okay first of all looking at the latest statistics cataracts was lower than 75% in 4 of the 10 provinces. Secondly, 75% is a low benchmark! What if you were one of the 25% and had to wait longer than 16 weeks?! In those four months, if the surgery was crucial it could be done in maybe 2 weeks somewhere in the states because health care isn’t nationalized. If you like Canada’s system so much then move there and don’t come back.

  2. Deb on August 8, 2009 12:55 am

    I don’t plan on moving anytime soon. I plan on doing what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years – staying here and working to make my country live up to the reputation it wants in the world. Did you miss the part where we ARE waiting at least as long, and sometimes longer, for our health care here in the U.S.?

    I love this country more than you could possibly know. I believe in this country and the standards on which it was actually founded. I believe in a country that was not a “shining light on a hill” for other countries to worship, but a lantern held up in the darkness to help light the way.

  3. W Edwards on August 22, 2009 1:44 pm

    At face value, your assessment of waiting times in Canada based on one single procedure is highly simplistic. Radiation is not scheduled until multiple other specialists are consulted and at least a CT scan is perfomed to let the radiation oncologist know WHERE to aim the radiation. Even more effective would be a PET Scan in helping that radiation oncologist make the most effective treatment plan. The radiation therapy is scheduled AFTER the specialists, diagnostic tests and staging. NOW add up all of these wait times. I have esophageal cancer stage II, in Canada, the accumulation of wait times would amount to a death sentence. In the US, under our present (8/2009) health care system, I may live to see my cancer cured. I would not have that hope or even possibility in the Canadian system.

    To add, consult the same site you cite. Wait times for other potentially life saving procedures are much longer than in the US.

Name (required)

Email (required)


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Share your wisdom