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Long waiting lists seem to have become a permanent feature of Canadian health care. But what are the effects of having to wait a long time for medical treatment? Is it just an annoyance, or are the consequences more serious?
Those opposed to market-based health care reform do their best to scare Canadians. Reality, however, is considerably different. International experience suggests that private competition is a fundamental feature of a high-performing, universal access health care system. For evidence, consider the Dutch health care system where private (and even for-profit) insurance companies, private providers, activity-based funding and cost sharing combine to provide more timely access to high (if not higher) quality care than Canada's system for similar cost.
Unfortunately, given the current government monopoly on healthcare insurance, the lack of appropriate incentives, and unwillingness to consider policies to reduce wait times that seem to have been successful in European countries with universal health care, it is entirely possible that Canadians may continue to experience some of the longest wait times in the developed world.
The Canadian health care system is not free -- in fact, Canadian families pay heavily for healthcare through the tax system. That high price paints the long wait times and lack of medical technologies in Canada in a very different light.
Every year, provincial health care systems across Canada dutifully reduce the volume of services they provide in preparation for the summer vacation season. This planned-for reduction has the inevitable effect of lengthening waiting times for Canadians over the summer months (and during Christmas holidays). The added twist this year is the slowdowns might be extended in a bid to reduce expenditures.
Over a million Ontarians lack a family doctor. While boosting funding may result in some more GP visits to people in major cities, the reality is this: the doctor shortage is pathetically real and many Ontarians -- too many Ontarians -- lack the most basic access to primary care.