Wente Watch

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Medicare muddles

Today Wente hosted a question-and-answer on medicare. Q&A sessions, by their nature, do not have the deliberately provocative tone Wente uses in her columns. Nonetheless, glimpses of her ideology, and the mindset behind them, can be seen through the cracks.

Wente appears to support the following proposals:

  1. Privatize most clinics and hospitals, and have them bill the government directly;
  2. Introduce user fees, perhaps with an exemption for the poor;
  3. Allow people to use private insurance to get faster treatment than in the public system.
  4. Weaken unions in the health-care sector (presumably through said privatization).

Wente insists she doesn't support a privatized American-style system (a bit surprising, given her general enthusiasm for all things American). She cites as models France, Australia, Sweden, and other European countries, all of which, she says, have elements of the above in their health-care systems.

Except that that most of these countries have a higher, not lower, percentage of public money in health care, as these figures show. Canada has 70 percent of health-care costs funded publicly. France (ranked best in the world by a WHO study) covers 78 percent, Sweden 85 percent. Australia does spend less than Canada does, but its performance is also worse; the same WHO study ranked Australia 32nd in the world, while Canada was 30th and the US 37th.

Wente's other points fare no better. Private clinics are not actually illegal in Canada. The stipulation is that they must either bill Medicare entirely, or not at all. It is combining the two that is verboten, since that would enable funding a private system with public dollars.

What about user fees? These have been extensively studied. Most research shows that the users who cut back most are the poor and the chronically ill. Furthermore, what is sacrificed is not urgent care, but preventive care. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but then, Wente believes that preventive medicine is a crock.

The most widely debated issue in the Canadian health sector, is, of course, whether to allow richer people to purchase private insurance for fast-track care. Here again the appeal to Europe is not entirely correct. The UK and Australia do indeed offer faster service in their private systems. But not France or Germany; they barely have wait times at all, even in their public systems, and the quality of care is as high in the public as in the private system.

So let's offer Wente a deal. You like French health care? Fine. Then give Canada the entire French package, and get rid of wait times across the board, for the rich and poor.

Canadians will never accept a private system as an express train for the rich while the majority remains trapped in cruel waiting lists.


  • Will the weakening of unions in the health-care sector include the CMA? For all the talk about taking cues from the Europeans, Wente and her ilk (never mind the CMA!) are apparently unaware that doctors, in particular, do not make nearly as much across the Pond (especially in France).

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at August 26, 2006 6:33 p.m.  

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