Walter E. Williams

 Some patients avoided long waits for medical services by paying for private treatment. In 2003, the government of British Columbia enacted Bill 82, an "Amendment to Strengthen Legislation and Protect Patients." On its face, Bill 82 is to "protect patients from inadvertent billing errors." That's on its face. But according to a January 2004 article written by Nadeem Esmail for the Fraser Institute's Forum and titled "Oh to Be a Prisoner," Bill 82 would disallow anyone from paying the clinical fees for private surgery, where previously only the patients themselves were forbidden from doing so. The bill also gives the government the power to levy fines of up to $20,000 on physicians who accept these fees or allow such a practice to occur. That means it is now against Canadian law to opt out of the Canadian health-care system and pay for your own surgery.

 Health care can have a zero price to the user, but that doesn't mean it's free or has a zero cost. The problem with a good or service having a zero price is that demand is going to exceed supply. When price isn't allowed to make demand equal supply, other measures must be taken. One way to distribute the demand over a given supply is through queuing -- making people wait. Another way is to have a medical czar who decides who is eligible, under what conditions, for a particular procedure -- for example, no hip replacement or renal dialysis for people over 70 or no heart transplants for smokers.

 I'm wondering just how many Americans would like Canada's long waiting lists, medical czars deciding what treatments we get and an exodus of doctors.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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