Health ministers from across the country say they will establish by a December deadline the first targets for how long people must wait to be treated for such ailments as cancer and joint replacements. But it was unclear how extensive the list will be and how much it will help patients.The waiting benchmark is a complex idea, and I'll be interested to see how it plays out. But I mention it for a specific reason. I've mentioned before that US media coverage of the Canadian health care system is uniformly negative. I'm not just talking about right-wingnuts. Even in moderate venues like The New York Times or Time magazine, articles about Canada's system always have a negative slant. Is it any wonder, then, that most Americans have a distorted view of the system, based on myths and lies?
"How many [benchmarks] there are will depend on the evidence in a number of areas that we have," federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said yesterday after a weekend meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts.
"If you ask me if we'll have 20 benchmarks in the area of cancer, I will tell you no, from what I know now, because it is a very sophisticated, complex area," he said. "But we will have some benchmarks in all areas."
Provincial and territorial ministers committed in a health accord signed last year to establish scientifically based benchmarks for waiting times in five treatment areas -- cancer care, heart treatment, diagnostic imaging, sight restoration and joint replacement -- by Dec. 31. In return, the federal government agreed to give them an extra $41-billion over 10 years.
Every American I've ever spoken to, except those who have researched the Canadian system on their own, believe Canadians wait dangerously long times for treatment and that anyone with any money travels to the US for health care. If I press for a source, it's a vague "I've heard...". They've heard. Yeah.
If the Canadian health care system was as bad as the American media reports, Canada would have shockingly high rates of untreated diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and millions of Canadians would be dropping dead while they waited for treatment. Somehow I think we'd hear about that.
Now, it would take an awful lot to convince me that a national single-payer system, no matter how problematic in reality, could ever be worse than the crazy non-system in the US. As Allan likes to say, there are 50 million Americans who would love to be waiting for an operation! (That is, the uninsured.) That number doesn't count the underinsured, and everyone who can't leave their dead-end jobs because they would lose their coverage, and all the folks paying increasingly gigantic amounts of their salary for insurance.
Suffice to say that I do not need convincing.
However, I understand there are problems - mainly caused, according to my progressive Canadian friends, by funding cutbacks that are now being restored. I've had uniformly good reports from wmtc readers, except for the serious shortage of doctors, especially in Ontario, and especially in the GTA. In another month, Allan and I will qualify for Ontario Health (Ontario being the only province without immediate coverage; there's a 90-day waiting period). Naturally I'm extremely curious to see how the system works in reality.
The recent focus on waiting benchmarks cuts to the heart of the most popular American myth about the Canadian system. On the Ontario Health website, there's a big section on wait times, including a page on wait time myths, and what is being done.
Part of me (the immature part!) feels like tracking down all the nut-jobs who've left comments here warning me that if I ever get sick, I'll die waiting for treatment, unless I come running back to TGNOTFOTE.