Oh, and about those wait times for medical treatment. . .

When all their other arguments about the advantages of the current US health care system compared to universal, single-payer systems in France, Canada, England, Germany, etc. are shown to be false, apologists for the US health care system turn to their trump card: alleging that wait times to see a doctor in those countries is longer than it is in the US. This statement by the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans is typical: “The American people do not support a government takeover of the entire health-care system because they know that means long waits for rationed care.”

The problem with this type of allegation is that the US does not systematically collect data on wait times, whereas the other countries do collect the data and make them public. The assumption seems to be that in the US, if there is no data, then the wait times must be zero. No data, no problem!

But using the scant data that is available, BusinessWeek points out that except in a few selected, non-emergency situations, even this charge is false: “In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems.”

As Paul Krugman points out in his New York Times July 16, 2007 column:

[B]y and large, opponents of universal health care paint a glowing portrait of the American system that bears as little resemblance to reality as the scare stories they tell about health care in France, Britain, and Canada.

The claim that the uninsured can get all the care they need in emergency rooms is just the beginning. Beyond that is the myth that Americans who are lucky enough to have insurance never face long waits for medical care.
. . .
[N]ot all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

This can lead to ordeals like the one recently described by Mark Kleiman, a professor at U.C.L.A., who nearly died of cancer because his insurer kept delaying approval for a necessary biopsy. ”It was only later,” writes Mr. Kleiman on his blog, ”that I discovered why the insurance company was stalling; I had an option, which I didn’t know I had, to avoid all the approvals by going to ‘Tier II,’ which would have meant higher co-payments.”

He adds, ”I don’t know how many people my insurance company waited to death that year, but I’m certain the number wasn’t zero.”

(You can read about Kleiman’s plight here, which occurred despite having what he calls “fancy-dancy health insurance through my employer, which as it happens also owns one of the world’s dozen best medical centers”.)

And what about that favorite of US health care apologists, the waiting time for hip replacements? Krugman looked at that too:

On the other hand, it’s true that Americans get hip replacements faster than Canadians. But there’s a funny thing about that example, which is used constantly as an argument for the superiority of private health insurance over a government-run system: the large majority of hip replacements in the United States are paid for by, um, Medicare.

That’s right: the hip-replacement gap is actually a comparison of two government health insurance systems. American Medicare has shorter waits than Canadian Medicare (yes, that’s what they call their system) because it has more lavish funding — end of story. The alleged virtues of private insurance have nothing to do with it.

Krugman’s conclusion is right on target:

The bottom line is that the opponents of universal health care appear to have run out of honest arguments. All they have left are fantasies: horror fiction about health care in other countries, and fairy tales about health care here in America.


As usual, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow succinctly captures how the media is colluding with the administration in fanning the flames for war with Iran, exactly the way it did with Iraq.


  1. says

    I don’t see why so many people are wanting a universal health care plan. This type of plan would cause more problems than its worth. It would take away our freedome to choose providers, doctors etc. We would be stuck with whatever coverage they give us which is typicall minimal and many things have to be paid out of our own pockets.

  2. Fred says

    I just read that business week article you quoted. The first example named a woman who saw a doctor in late May, found an abnormality and tried to reschedule, only to find out the wait time would be until August 25th. She called around and found another doctor willing to see her June 25th.

    In Canada you are not allowed to visit other doctors or provinces to “jump the line”. Why should she villify the system? If she was in Canada, she would have waited until August 25th, no ifs, ands or buts.

    The other thing that disturbs me is the other wait times this system quotes. It’s funny…although we have some queuing, we have 10 times the population Canada does, and we still manage to have more efficient wait times. I think the major thing to look at is the bigger picture.

    Also, the per-capita arguement that Canada spends less per-capita than America…we also have an estimated 20 million illegal immigrants living in this country. How many of them benefit from the system without paying taxes? Of course, this is just a fact to cogitate. I think people are using bombast to distort the true virtues of our system.

  3. I Must Be An Idiot says

    Nearly every one of your asides or examples that speak of the horrors of Canadian health care are complete fabrication foisted upon ignorant people by the American Insurance Companies. Come on they wouldn’t lie to us would they. The Parasites on the backside of America are masters at using propaganda to fool the Rubes. Oh and most of the refuting studies are done by entities that have a monied interest in the status quo.

  4. says

    I don’t see the issue here as having anything to do with Health Care. Having Government “provide” anything is a road map to problems. If there is an issue with a number of persons not having health care then deal with that issue. I could agree with a program to provide health care to those particular individuals. But this “Health Insurance Monster” which includes punishment and fine clauses, and uses the IRS as a “hammer” to punish and coerce is just not inline with my concept of minimal government and freedom.
    Deal with the issue of those Americans who need health assistance and don’t create the worlds largest government economic “nip n tuck” Chuck Burns Plasma Cutters For Sale

  5. Kirie says

    I think the best option is not one or the other -- private or public healthcare. It should be public healthcare available to those who need it, and private insurance healthcare for those who can afford it. It’s the best of both worlds.

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  6. says

    This is a very tough road to trek in the U.S.

    Who provides, what is the quality, who pays, what is the quality of the medical care, doctors shortages, facility shortages, medical instrument shortages, etc…, etc…, etc…

    The challenge is that the government is not treating this like a business as usual.

    Step 1 -- Identify problem

    Step 2 -- Formulate Solution

    Step 3 -- Test the solution in several markets (small, medium and large)

    Step 4 -- Make adjustments to suit market and demand

    Step 5 -- Implementation Plan

    Step 6 -- Accountability to the Plan

    This sort of simple process would ensure that the government does not make trillions of dollars in mistakes.

  7. says

    I’ve never thought that the “wait time” argument was compelling enough for me to close my mind. That said, I certainly want everyone to have freedom of choice, including a public option. Although I’m not an apologist for health insurance companies,I’m not sure that they necessarily deserve the lion’s share of the blame. We shouldn’t forget that health care is a business, and there are many practitioners that are quick to order additional procedures that pay them well. Maybe a publicly funded option would add a little oversight.

  8. says

    Healthcare should be available to everyone; although premium treatments and care are expensive. Evaluating the efficiency of hospitals can be one way to lower healthcare costs.


  9. says

    Well…I guess we;ll find out a lot next year when the Supreme Court rules on health care.

    We do need to lower costs, but not at the expense of the middle class.

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