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PIPES: A crummy Canadian import

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2011

A federal judge recently ruled President Obama's health care law unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court no doubt will have to settle the matter, but several of the reform package's worst offenses have taken root already.

A new "medicine cabinet tax" prevents 40 million Americans from using their Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) to purchase over-the-counter medications. Tummy ache? HSAs and FSAs no longer may finance Pepto-Bismol purchases, for instance. Instead, account owners who wish to use their own savings must spend time and money begging their physicians for prescriptions for costlier pharmaceutical remedies.

Pharmaceutical companies will also pay $2.3 billion in taxes in 2011, with each firm's exact bill determined according to its share of the industry's sales. Those costs undoubtedly will be passed along to consumers - and will discourage research into new cures.

Health insurance companies also must now spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars from individual and small-group plans on medical claims. For large groups, the figure is 85 percent.

Many firms are having trouble complying with these regulations. As a result, the Obama administration has exempted 733 organizations from the rules.

Where will this meddling end? As a former Canadian who moved here in 1991 and became an American in 2006, I worry that my native country's big-government medical model is creeping down below the 49th parallel.

A recent report from Canada's Fraser Institute details a major, chronic Canadian ailment: enormous wait times to see physicians and surgeons.

Canadians in 2010 faced a median medical wait time of 18.2 weeks for surgeries and other lifesaving care. That is more than four months.

My former countrymen are waiting for more than 825,000 procedures - 131,000 more than they were last year.

This situation is far worse than when I left Canada.

Residents of the Great White North wait 96 percent longer for surgery than they did in 1993, despite steep increases in health spending. The average Canadian waits more than 140 percent longer than he did 18 years ago for consultation with a specialist.

Why should Americans care about long waits in Halifax and Saskatoon?

Canada's disease is highly contagious, especially when America behaves as if it's welcoming the infection. Obamacare aims to deliver health insurance to 30 million more people, 18 million of whom will be added to the Medicaid rolls. At the same time, the new law does little to boost the supply of doctors to see these new patients, plus those they already treat. The result is as predictable as a scalpel cutting through flesh: Waiting rooms will fill, and delays will stretch as rising patient demand collides into a flat - or even falling - supply of doctors.

Atop frightful wait times, Canadians also have access to fewer drugs than do Americans. As of the beginning of 2010, the vaunted Canadian provincial government plans didn't reimburse for drugs like Avandaryl for type 2 diabetes and Faslodex, which treats certain types of breast cancer - despite the fact that they'd been approved by Canadian regulators five years earlier.

Such shortcomings have prompted several prominent supporters of the country's "compassionate," government-run program to travel abroad when they have needed care themselves. America's "greedy" health system suddenly seems less odious when their lives are in jeopardy.

Just one year ago, Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams paid personally for minimally invasive heart-valve surgery at Miami's Mount Sinai Medical Center. When journalists asked why he had left Canada for care, Mr. Williams replied, "This was my heart, my choice and my health."

Former Liberal member of Parliament Belinda Stronach fought privatization of Canadian health care. But in June 2007, she traveled to California's UCLA Medical Center for late-stage breast-cancer surgery. Quebec's late Premier Robert Bourassa also trekked south, for skin-cancer therapy.

Canada also ships many of its less famous citizens to America for care, such as those whom Quebec routinely exports to Vermont for coronary attention.

From its mind-numbing rules to its mandate-fueled ethos to the new taxes that fund the entire maddening enterprise, Obamacare is slowly but surely making American medicine look more and more like its Canadian counterpart.

Of course, Canadians who are sick of Canadian medicine have always come to America. But where will Americans go once they grow sick of Obamacare?

Sally C. Pipes is president of the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is "The Truth About ObamaCare" (Regnery, 2010).

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