Wishing for Wait Times

I am compelled to respond to Michael Cregan’s recent letter which infers that Canadian wait times for surgery indicate the inadequacy of that country’s heatlh-care system [“Waiting for Surgery,” 9/24/09]. Missing from the analysis is the fact that 50 million Americans have no health-care coverage whatsoever, and hence may only dream of wait times. Another 50 million or more have inadequate coverage, and, for financial reasons, are more inclined to postpone or avoid medically necessary treatment altogether. Once you have effectively removed a third of the population from the health-care system, it is indeed no wonder that the wait times for the remainder may be somewhat lower than for Canadians for some scattered services. Add these people back in and you will see a rather different picture. It should also be noted that the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], the provenance of the wait time factoid cited in the letter, has a decidedly pro-privatization bias in its analyses.

The facts surrounding Canadian wait times for treatment are much less appalling than U.S. media is inclined to report. Wait times are posted on the Internet-the really curious can start there. Those who are dismissive of the Canadian system rely completely on anecdotal information since there is no peer-reviewed evidence supporting the notion that our system results in better health outcomes in any significant way.

Canadian health care is certainly not free: It is prepaid. Canadians pay about half of what we do for their health care (per capita) and are much better served by a system that allows them to use any doctor or provider they like with no financial barriers to treatment. Stories of Canadians storming the border for U.S. health care are also unsupportable (google “Phantoms in the Snow”), while a few Canadians making the rounds in the talk-show circuit (such as Shona Holmes) spin their illnesses, with deceitful embellishments, into compelling tales of mistreatment. These few cases are not statistically significant in any way. - Bart Woolery, co-chair of Santa Barbara Chapter of Health Care for All

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