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Health Care Needs a Dose of Competition
Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, and co-author of Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It from which this article is adapted.

By a 4-to-3 decision, Canada's high court struck down Quebec's law that prohibits private medical insurance. With all of the leftist hype extolling the "virtues" of Canada's universal health-care system, you might wonder why any sane Canadian would want to purchase private insurance.

Plaintiffs Jacques Chaoulli, a physician, and his patient, George Zeliotis, launched their legal challenge to the government's monopolized health-care system after having had to wait a year for hip-replacement surgery. In finding for the plaintiffs, Canada's high court said:

The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health-care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care. The evidence also demonstrates that the prohibition against private health insurance and its consequence of denying people vital health care result in physical and psychological suffering that meets a threshold test of seriousness.

Writing for the majority, Justice Marie Deschamps said:

Many patients on non-urgent waiting lists are in pain and cannot fully enjoy any real quality of life. The right to life and to personal inviolability is therefore affected by the waiting times.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fraser Institute keeps track of Canadian waiting times for various medical procedures. According to the Fraser Institute's 14th annual edition of "Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada (2004)," total waiting time between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed, rose from 17.7 weeks in 2003 to 17.9 weeks in 2004. For example, depending on which Canadian province, an MRI requires a wait between 7 and 33 weeks.

Orthopedic surgery might require a wait of 14 weeks for a referral from a general practitioner to the specialist and then another 24 weeks from the specialist to treatment. That statistic might help explain why Cleveland, Ohio, has become Canada's hip-replacement center.

Last Updated ( Aug 18, 2006 at 04:57 PM )