While Democrats in Washington extol the virtues of socialized medicine, Canada's most populous province is beginning to move away from single-payer health care. Last month, Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced plans to increase its reliance on private healthcare providers.
The move is a necessary response to the ongoing crisis in Canada's government-run health system. But it's also a reminder that "Medicare for All" — the government takeover of the U.S. health insurance system that progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., would like to foist upon American patients — would put their lives in jeopardy.
Accessing healthcare has long been a struggle for Canadians. And it's grown worse in recent years. Typical wait times for specialist care exceeded 27 weeks in 2022 — a nearly 200% increase over 1993, according to a recent study from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
Ontario's median wait is slightly better — just over 20 weeks. But that's still more than double the wait 30 years ago.
Horror stories about life-threatening emergency-room delays are appallingly common. One recent episode involved a Nova Scotia patient who entered an emergency room in late December with intense abdominal pain. She waited more than seven hours before going into cardiac arrest — and ultimately died.
According to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute, more than 4 in 10 Canadian adults report difficulty accessing or a total inability to access one of five key health services: non-emergency care, emergency care, surgery, diagnostic testing, and specialist appointments.
The situation is so dire that even the socialist magazine Jacobin admitted in a recent headline that "Canada's Health Care System Is on Life Support."
It's encouraging, then, that Ontario's leaders are finally taking action. The province's Premier Doug Ford just unveiled a three-step plan to expand the number of procedures and tests available through private providers — including cataract surgeries, MRI and CT scans, colonoscopies, and hip replacements.
The proposal will also allow more private clinics to open within the province; that could help relieve Ontario's backlog of more than 200,000 surgeries.
As Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon in British Columbia who has been fighting to deliver care privately for decades but has been denied in the courts, wrote for Canada's Globe and Mail, "Mr. Ford’s plan will . . . improve quality of care [and] should save hundreds of lives every year."
Seen in this light, Ontario's reforms count as one of the most positive developments in Canadian health policy in recent memory. But there's no reason Ford should stop there.
Nearly every aspect of Canada's health system is plagued by the inefficiencies, delays, and wastefulness endemic to single-payer and universal coverage systems all over the world. If more private care is a suitable answer in the case of hip replacements and cataract surgeries, surely the same goes for emergency care and general practice.
Not surprisingly, Ford's plan has met intense condemnation from defenders of Canada's single-payer system. As they see it, expanding access to private providers will undermine the nation's public health facilities.
But the nation's public facilities have failed to provide quality care to Canadians in a timely fashion for decades. It's tragic that it's taken so long to try something different.
The bleak state of Canada's health system might come as a surprise to many Americans, who have been told by progressives for years that Canada manages to provide health care to all its citizens for "free" — and that greed on the part of insurance companies and providers is the only thing preventing Americans from enjoying free care themselves.
That narrative has taken hold. According to a new Gallup poll only 48% of Americans rate our nation's healthcare system as "excellent" or "good." That's a record low. Fifty-seven percent say that the government should ensure that all Americans have health coverage.
On the other hand, nearly three-quarters of Americans view their own health care as "excellent" or "good." And 53% believe that private insurance should be the foundation of the U.S. system.
In other words, many Americans are sympathetic to the idea of Canadian-style care. But not for them — for someone else.
After decades of long waits and subpar care, Ontario is finally giving some market-based ideals in health care a try. When will the rest of Canada follow suit?
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is "False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All," (Encounter Books 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes. Read Sally Pipes' Reports — More Here.
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