Wente Watch

Friday, November 24, 2006

Privatize your ankle

Wente tells a story, with the apparent implicit point that medicare should pay for private clinics.

Actually, several provinces do pay for private clinics. The issue is not whether they are publicly or privately run, the issue is whether they are run for a profit. If medicare pays for these, it has to pay for the clinics' profits as well as their operating costs, which are not any lower than public clinics. For this particular example, they are even higher, since this is the very clinic where doctors scrub floors.

Why does the private clinic offer instant surgery while the public system has multi-year waits? Very simple: the private clinic charges $20K an ankle. Funny how high fees make waiting lists vanish.

The bottom ideological point Wente is trying to argue is that punitive waiting times are an inevitable consequence of publicly-run medicare. That is false. Countries like France, Germany, Japan, Belgium, and Austria have no waiting times to speak of, and they manage with publicly-run systems.

France spends less on health care per capita than Canada does, yet it manages to have nearly twice as many acute-care hospital beds, and 50% more doctors, per capita, as does Canada.

And why is that? Because deficit hawks in Ottawa and Queen's Park made careers out of closing hospitals, shuttering beds, capping nurses' salaries, and cutting medical school enrollments in the early 1990s, convinced that "medical technology" had made actual practitioners obsolete. They were wrong. Patients are paying the price - and ideologues like Wente are neatly deflecting the blame.


  • The Commonwealth Fund report published a couple of weeks ago provided interesting illustrations of your points. Strangely, the Canadian press dropped the story like a hot potato. I can see why the giant corporations which run private media might want to do that, but I was surprised at the CBC. Then again, CBC journalists aren't exactly poor, and maybe the ability to do some queue-jumping appeals to them. Thanks for your sane and informed commentary about health care. It's not thick on the ground in Canada.

    By Anonymous sid, at November 24, 2006 9:27 p.m.  

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