September 29, 2000
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2000-Even as some Americans head
north to get cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, many more
Canadians are heading south-to buy the drugs and vital medical
services they can't get at any price under their country's highly
touted system of government-run health care.
Lack of access to prescription drugs-an inevitable result of the
rationing that occurs under nearly every form of socialized
medicine-is only one of the problems patients encounter with the
so-called "universal health coverage" found in Canada and Britain,
a new Heritage Foundation paper says.
Vice President Al Gore recently predicted the United States
would adopt such a system "within this decade." But according to
Heritage healthcare expert James Frogue, that means U.S. patients
would be forced to suffer the same fate as their counterparts in
Britain and Canada: long waiting lists, government rationing and
The waiting lists for treatment in both countries, even for
serious conditions, are notoriously long, Frogue says. One Canadian
cardiologist, Dr. Richard Davies, recently wrote in the Canadian
Medical Association Journal that "Canadian patients are being
forced to wait much longer than is really necessary" for heart
bypass surgery. Figures from the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario
show that more than 1,500 patients were on the waiting list for
bypass surgery between April 1996 and March 1997. Some died while
waiting, while others were taken off the list because their
extended waiting time made them "medically unfit for surgery."
The situation is hardly better in Britain, Frogue says. In 1998
more than 1.3 million British patients were on waiting lists for
medical care. James Hughes-Onslow, a reporter for Britain's
Daily Telegraph, recently wrote about his four-month wait to
receive an operation for colon cancer. The wait was short by
British standards: Hughes-Onslow said he had to "pull every string
available" to move up the lists and get treated for a condition
doctors say could have proved fatal.
The idyllic picture some critics of U.S. health care paint of
Canada's drug situation is false as well, Frogue says. "Health
authorities control drug spending by limiting the number of drugs
they approve and by slowing the approval process," Frogue says.
Between 1994 and 1998, the Canadian government approved only 24 of
400 new drugs. Many drugs are available in the United States months
before they are approved for use in Canada.
Government-run "universal health care" also subjects patients to
substandard care, Frogue says. "Budget-conscious bureaucrats seldom
approve pricey new technologies, as their budgets are always
stretched to the maximum," he writes. A survey of teaching
hospitals in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia found that 18
medical procedures widely available to U.S. patients are not
available to Canadians.
In Britain, lack of access to modern technologies and medicines
poses high risks for patients, especially in cases involving cancer
and cardiovascular disease, Frogue says. Recently, the World Health
Organization estimated that 25,000 British cancer patients have
Frogue recounts one near-tragedy in Canada: A 64-year-old
patient was taking a drug called omeprazole for peptic ulcers, but
government officials demanded that he switch to a less expensive
substitute. Three days later, he was hospitalized and given a
complete blood transfusion. After 10 more days and several more
transfusions, he was able to leave the hospital. When discharged,
he was again taking omeprazole.
"Supporters of government-run health care claim that such a
system is best for patients and doctors, but the evidence from
Britain and Canada proves otherwise," Frogue says. "Access to
treatment is far from guaranteed, care is rationed by government
bureaucrats, the rich and well-connected get better care, fed-up
doctors flee the system, and patients suffer. Government-run health
care is a prescription for trouble."
NR092900: British, Canadian Experience Shows Folly of Socialized Medicine, Analyst Says
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