- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

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

It turns out that, to prop up government-delivered medical care, Quebec and other Canadian provinces have outlawed private health insurance. By a 4-3 decision, Canada’s high court struck down Quebec’s law that prohibits private medical insurance. With all the leftist hype extolling the “virtues” of Canada’s universal health-care system, you might wonder why any sane Canadian would buy private insurance.

Plaintiffs Jacques Chaoulli, a physician, and his patient, George Zeliotis, launched their legal challenge to the government’s monopolized health-care system after being forced 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 health-care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care. The evidence also demonstrates that the prohibition against private health insurance and its consequence of denying people vital health care result in physical and psychological suffering that meets a threshold test of seriousness.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Marie Deschamps said: “Many patients on nonurgent 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 Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia, keeps track of Canadian waiting times for various medical procedures. According to the Fraser’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 of between 7 and 33 weeks.

Orthopaedic surgery might require a 14-week wait for a referral from a general practitioner to the specialist and then another 24 weeks wait for treatment from the specialist. 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.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin responded to the court’s decision, saying: “We’re not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country. What we want to do is strengthen the public health-care system.” That’s the standard callous political response. He’s telling Canadians to keep waiting, suffering and perhaps dying until there’s no more waiting.

And though Canadian politicians can’t give their citizens a certain date when there’ll be no more waiting, they’re determined to deny them alternatives to waiting for government provided health care. I’d bet you the rent money that Mr. Martin and members of the Canadian Parliament don’t wait months and years for a medical procedure.

I wonder just how many Americans would like to import Canada’s health-care system, which prohibits purchase of private insurance and private health-care 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 Nazism for government to prohibit a person who wishes to do so from purchasing medical services. But let’s not look down our noses at our northern neighbors, for we too are well along the road toward medical Nazism.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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