Paul Jacob

While many Americans look to Canada for solutions to our health care mess, Canadians, in increasing numbers, look southward, to us.

Canada's National Post recently reported on a nationwide poll. "More than half of Canadians support a parallel private health care system that would let patients pay for speedier service," Tom Blackwell's June 1 article summarized. "The poll found 51 percent favour a two-tier system, with support highest in Quebec, at 68 percent, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the birthplace of medicare, at 57 percent."

Canada's political insiders hardly know how to react. No major party espouses private medicine, even in the watered-down form considered in the poll. How could so many Canadians want something very much like what America has? It's unpatriotic!

Patients Must Be Patient

America endures a mixed private-public system. Health care is still "privately provided," though our Medicare programs are nearly as large as our private insurance companies combined, and regulations on health care providers and insurance companies abound.

In Canada, on the other hand, it's pretty much government through and through. Though "free medicine" sounds great, its implementation has led to more than a few problems. For something "free," it comes with a high price tag: Canadians pay for the service in extremely high taxes. Worse yet, Canadian patients are often forced to be extraordinarily patient, even at the cost of their health.

If you need a test, getting it in Canada is not the speedy thing it is in America. There's usually a lag. This applies to treatments, too, especially the older you get.

In his book Code Blue, medical student David Gratzer reported that Canadians wait for radiation therapy three to four times longer than Americans do. The average wait for an MRI scan stretches almost to half a year, while Americans wait three days. Only a fifth of Canadians diagnosed with cancer can see a specialist within four weeks.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.