Universal healthcare not perfect solution

By Walter Williams: Syndicated Columnist

America’s socialists advocate that we adopt a universal healthcare system like our northern neighbor Canada. Before we buy into complete socialization of our healthcare system, we might check out the Canadian Supreme Court’s June 9th ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General).

It turns out that in order to prop up government-delivered medical care, Quebec and other Canadian provinces have outlawed private health insurance. 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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 healthcare system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public healthcare.

“The evidence also demonstrates that the prohibition against private health insurance and its consequence of denying people vital healthcare 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.

Orthopaedic 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.

As reported in a December 2003 story by Kerri Houston for the Frontiers of Freedom Institute titled “Access Denied: Canada’s Healthcare System Turns Patients into Victims,” in some instances, patients die on the waiting list because they become too sick to tolerate a procedure. Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin responded to the court’s decision saying, “We’re not going to have a two-tier healthcare system in this country. What we want to do is strengthen the public healthcare system.”

That’s the standard callous political response. He’s telling Canadians to continue waiting, continue suffering and perhaps dying until the day comes when there’s no more waiting. And though Canadian politicians can’t give their citizens a date certain when there’ll be no more waiting, they’re determined to deny them alternatives to waiting for government-provided healthcare. I’d bet you the rent money that Prime Minister Martin and members of the Canadian Parliament don’t have to wait months and years for a medical procedure.

I wonder just how many Americans would like to import Canada’s healthcare system, which prohibits the purchase of private insurance and private healthcare services. In British Columbia, for example, Bill 82 provides that a physician can be fined up to $20,000 for accepting fees for surgery. In my book, it’s medical Naziism for government to prohibit a person who wishes to purchase medical services from doing so. But let’s not look down our noses at our northern neighbors, for we too are well along the road toward medical Naziism.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: wwilliam@gmu.edu