October 1, 2023


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GOLDSTEIN: Canada’s ‘free’ health-care system is broken

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While health care is the primary concern of Canadians save for the rising cost of living, according to an Abacus Data poll released Wednesday, the issue appeared to get short shrift in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle.

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Yes, the PM named Mark Holland to replace Jean-Yves Duclos as health minister.

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But since the Trudeau government announced a new funding deal with the provinces earlier this year, giving them an additional $196.1 billion over 10 years for health care — the feds may feel they’ve dealt with this issue for now.

While $196.1 billion is a lot of money — albeit with only $46.2 billion of it in new spending beyond previously announced increases — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to total health-care spending in Canada which eats up about 40% of provincial budgets and accounts for 12.2% of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product.

The total cost of Canadian health care last year was $331 billion or $8,563 per Canadian, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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Even an increase of $196.1 billion over 10 years would only fund our existing health-care system for 7.1 months of one year.

Meanwhile, numerous studies have shown Canadians are not getting good value for money spent on health care, compared to 29 other developed countries with universal health care comparable to our own, which excludes the U.S., which does not have universal health care.

According to the fiscally conservative Fraser Institute, Canadians pay the highest costs for health care when adjusted for the age of our population and the eighth highest per capita.

Among 10 comparable countries that track medical wait times, Canada ranks last.

Last year, the average medical wait time across 12 medical specialties — the time it takes from the referral of a patient by a general practitioner to the start of treatment by a specialist for medically-necessary elective care — was a record 27.4 weeks, 195% higher than 9.3 weeks in 1993.

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We rank 28th out of 30 countries in the number of doctors (2.8 per 1,000 people); 23rd out of 28 in acute care beds (2.2 per 1,000); 22nd out of 29 in psychiatric beds (0.38 per 1,000); 26th out of 29 in MRI machines (10.3 per million people), and 27th out of 30 in CT scanners, (15 per million).

One major problem, as the Fraser Institute reports in a new study, is the misconception Canadian health care is “free.”

In fact, in addition to what Canadians pay in taxes for health care, 28% of the costs are paid for by patients, primarily out of pocket or through purchasing private medical insurance.

Between 1997 and 2023, the amount of money Canadians pay through their taxes for health care has increased by 234%, compared to a 133.8% increase in incomes, 71.9% in the Consumer Price Index, 132.9% in the cost of shelter, 113% for food and 56.3% for clothing.

In the last decade, due to the provinces and federal government attempting to contain the ever increasing costs of health care, the rate of increase in tax dollars earmarked for health care has slowed dramatically, leading to complaints the system is being starved for cash.

The real problem is more money alone isn’t going to fix Canadian health care without an overhaul of the system, drawing on other developed countries with universal health-care systems comparable to our own, who have found better ways to provide health care more efficiently than we do.