Next week, the US Senate will return to work in Washington. Several key committees will welcome the new leaders, including the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will be led by Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Senator Sanders has vowed to make “universal health care” a focus of his tenure at the top of the HELP committee. He has long been a fan of Canada’s single-payer system, in which the government has a monopoly on paying for medically necessary care.
But that system is crumbling. Canadian patients face record waits for both routine and emergency care. And they pay dearly for the privilege.
Canada’s healthcare system, called Medicare, was once the pride and joy of the country. But as the show enters its seventh decade, public opinion is starting to shift. Just over half of Canadians said they were satisfied with their healthcare system in 2022, down from nearly 70% in 2020.
It’s easy to see why. The waits are endless. In 2022, Canadian patients waited a median of 27.4 weeks between referral to a general practitioner and receiving treatment from a specialist, according to the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver think tank. That’s nearly two weeks longer than the average wait time in 2021 and nearly three times the 9.3 weeks Canadians waited on average in 1993.
And because private health insurance is illegal for treatment the government deems medically necessary, patients can’t pay a premium to escape the queue.
Nor, for that matter, can doctors. They have a client: the government. And that customer is committed to keeping costs under control. Canada spends 12.2% of GDP on health care; health care accounts for 18.3% of US GDP, by comparison.
So Canadian doctors need to do more with less. And that is pushing many to the brink. More than half of Canadian doctors reported burnout in 2021, up from 30% in 2017, according to a recent Canadian Medical Association survey.
Another survey found that more than 75% of Canadian nurses “qualified as burnouts in 2021”. And while doctors work an average of 52 hours a week, they spend just 36 hours treating patients, spending a total of 16 hours on paperwork and other bureaucratic tasks.
Faced with these onerous conditions, Canadian doctors are retiring. Nearly 20% of general practitioners in Toronto plan to go out of business in the next five years, according to a study published in the journal Canadian family doctor. Many cite burnout as a reason for doing so.
The Canadian Medical Association estimates that approximately 5 million Canadians did not have a primary care provider in 2021. The Children’s Hospital of Recent Ontario was so understaffed this winter that the Canadian Red Cross needed to send backup doctors.
To add insult to injury, this crappy “free” cure actually costs Canadians a pretty penny. A typical family of four paid a whopping $15,847 in taxes just to cover the cost of public health insurance, according to research from the Fraser Institute.
Canada’s health tax burden has increased in recent years. A childless couple who paid $8,225 in public coverage taxes in 1997 pay about $15,229 today, an 85 percent increase.
Not even these hefty fees can keep Medicare running smoothly. Provincial leaders are calling on the Canadian government to cover 35% of health care costs, up from 22% they currently cover. But 57% of Canadians say the current spending rate is already unsustainable, and experts agree. As Steven Staples, the Canadian Health Coalition’s national director of policy and advocacy, put it, increasing funding for Medicare at this point is like “pouring hot water into a leaky bathtub.”
Rather than doubling down on failed and costly socialized medicine, Canadian leaders must consider lifting the ban on private health coverage and allowing market forces to fix part of the nation’s malfunctioning health care system.
The single payment may be Bernie’s dream, but it’s fast becoming every Canadian’s nightmare. Perhaps some of your colleagues on the HELP committee can invite some of the Canadians waiting for treatment to offer a first-hand perspective on the crisis affecting their health care system.