Canadian healthcare is sick

Canadian healthcare is sick

Two reports released last week emphasize the excessive waiting times that Canadians are suffering.

There are three key pieces of evidence that Canadian healthcare is sick:

  • One, that access to a waiting list for health care is not the same thing as health care.
  • Secondly, that waiting for medically necessary treatment imposes a financial burden on patients in addition to physical and psychological ones.
  • Third, that excessive wait times for medically necessary treatment have become a permanent feature of Canada’s public healthcare system.

In one of two reports on the issue released last week, the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 30% of patients across Canada in 2018 who required hip or knee replacement, or cataract surgery, among other procedures, did not receive their treatment within recommended waiting times.

But that’s only half the story because the recommended waiting times for hip and knee replacement are themselves excessive–182 days or six months—and 112 days, or almost four months, for cataract surgery.

Excessive waiting times not only cause mental and physical stress for Canadians, but also, as the Fraser Institute reported in its own recent study, financial hardship.

Cost of Canadian healthcare

The Fraser study estimated the private costs incurred by the more than one million Canadians waiting for medically necessary treatment last year reached $2.1 billion, or an average of $1,924 per patient, due to lost wages and reduced productivity.

The study also indicated that this may be a conservative estimate because it excludes the costs to patients waiting for medical treatment outside of the traditional work week and doesn’t factor in time spent waiting to see a specialist for treatment after being referred by a family doctor, which is often longer than clinically recommended.

It’s true that the available money for medically necessary healthcare in Canada —paid for by taxpayers— will always fall short of the demand for medically necessary treatment.

That’s because financial resources are finite while the growing demand for healthcare is virtually unlimited, particularly in light of the increasing costs of caring for the giant and aging baby boomer generation.

The current status quo is unacceptable

Finally, excessive medical waiting times aren’t, despite what politicians say, examples of the healthcare system failing to function as it should.

In reality, Canada’s healthcare system could not function without excessive wait times for medically necessary care, as a way of rationing healthcare to Canadians.

Either way, the current status quo is unacceptable, particularly in light of the fact that many modern industrialized countries around the world are seeing better healthcare outcomes due to the fact they deliver healthcare more efficiently.

Indeed, meekly accepting excessive wait times as the price of a functioning healthcare system in Canada is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, which is demanding better performance by the federal and provincial governments that preside over the system.


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Oso Oseguera
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