The Fraser Institute has released its regular survey of healthcare wait lists in Canada, and it says the results aren’t good: wait lists are too long, an average of 19 weeks, which they say is “the longest total wait time recorded since the Fraser Institute began measuring wait times.” And yes, for the most part, 19 weeks (read: over 4 months) is indeed a long time to wait for surgery.
First, as always, you must consider the source of this report. Not just the Fraser Institute, but who funds it. I have already explored the rather sordid fundraising techniques used by this supposedly independent think tank, which have extended to soliciting money from the tobacco industry to oppose tobacco taxes and spread spurious claims that secondhand smoke is not harmful. This report does not identify a sponsor, but there usually is one. For instance, the annual survey of evil mining regulations is paid for a mining trade association. So, does anybody fund the healthcare survey? The Fraser Institute certainly takes in money from drug companies and private clinics, both of whom would benefit considerably from the privatization of healthcare.
Oddly enough, the report makes a great deal of the fact that 19 weeks is a “new high,” but you have to dig very deep into the appendices to discover that in most provinces, the real spike in specialist-to-treatment wait times occurred during the 1990s, and then wait times plateaued or even declined over the past 8 years or so, presumably a result of the Liberal government’s healthcare accord. (The one that the Harper regime will almost certainly not be renewing in 2013.) So public spending actually did improve matters, which I know is anathema to the hacks at the Fraser Institute.
I’ll certainly agree with the Fraser Institute that 19 weeks is too long a time to wait for necessary treatment (though I should point out that most of the urgent surgeries actually have much lower wait times; cancer, for instance, is only about 1 month). But this is a problem that the Fraser Institute itself actually has no interest in solving. To see what I mean, consider the solution they advocate in other publications: throwing open healthcare to the private sector and allowing people to purchase whatever surgeries they want.
“Want,” there, is the key word, and in this case it is a synonym for “afford.” There are two ways we can reduce wait times, and only two; you can prattle on all you want about specific details, but ultimately every solution involves one of these. First, you can deny people surgery. Second, you can increase the number of doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals who are providing treatment. There is no third alternative.
Privatization is a strategy which lowers wait times by telling some people that they don’t need to wait for surgery, because they won’t be getting surgery at all. Its advocates, like the Fraser Institute, downplay this by saying that the private sector will come up with new innovations that allow more to be done with the same resources. That might be true to an extent, but only to a small extent. Ultimately, if you want the same amount of people to see a specialist in a shorter amount of time, then you must have more specialists.
And that is a resource that the private sector cannot supply, period. Because in Canada, medical doctors are exclusively produced by the public sector.Tweet