The Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting wraps up today in Sasketchewan, and included a lot of talk about health care reform. Canada’s health care system has become a major talking point for both sides of the American health care reform debate. Proponents of public health insurance point to Canada as an example of a country where every citizen has access to health care. But people who don’t want to see additional government involvement in our health care system note that Canadians often face long waits for care. It’s tough to figure out who is telling the truth, since just about everyone in the health care reform debate has an agenda and an interest in seeing a particular outcome.
I found it interesting to read through the 9th annual National Report Card On Health Care that was unveiled on the first day of the CMA meeting. It’s based on a survey of 1002 Canadian adults, and does indeed indicate that there is some dissatisfaction with the current Canadian health care system. Dr. Anne Doig, the incoming president of the CMA, has said that the Canadian health care system is “imploding” and “precarious” and that it needs an overhaul. The departing CMA president, Dr. Robert Ouellet, has said that “competition should be welcomed, not feared” (referencing the possibility of private enterprise within Canada’s public health care system). Of course both Doig and Ouellet represent Canadian physicians, and so one has to wonder how much their sentiment is driven by a desire to help physicians. The CMA – much like the AMA – has a vested interest in looking out for their own members, and that can’t be overlooked when we consider their recommendations for health care overhauls.
But the National Report Card On Health Care is based on a survey of average Canadians, and it does indicate that problems exist. Only 29% of respondents rated “access to a family doctor” with an “A” and only 24% gave an “A” rating to “access to health care services for children.” Wait times do appear to be a cause for dissatisfaction, with 55% of the people surveyed saying that they had to wait longer than they thought was reasonable to see a specialist (of course “longer than they thought was reasonable” is a pretty subjective measure). Access to modern diagnostic equipment and specialists definitely seems to be lacking, as more people gave those factors a grade of “F” than an “A”.
The American medical system does seem to be superior – for those who have health insurance. Of course there are millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance, and those people would likely be happy with the Canadian model – waiting for care is probably preferable to no care at all. But the Canadian report card brings up some important issues that should be considered by anyone who is trying to come up with a good solution to the health care problems we face here in the US. While the uninsured would probably be happy with a system that imposes longer wait times, most Americans are currently insured and would likely be less than pleased with a move towards a system that entailed less access to health care than they currently have.