Oh, those long Canadian wait times

The favorite (if not only) talking point of boosters of the awful American health care system, when confronted with data showing that health outcomes are so much better in single-payer systems like those in Canada, is to point to the wait times for elective treatments in those countries. It is true that for elective procedures, you may have to wait for some time. As a result, those in Canada who can afford it sometimes cross the border to the US and pay for treatment that they could have had for free at home, a fact that is seized upon eagerly to argue that this shows how superior the US system must be.

Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the strongest advocates in Congress for a single-payer system, held a hearing on it and invited seven experts (one from Canada, two from Taiwan, one from Denmark, and three from the US) to give testimony. You can see the 90-minute hearing below.

At one point at Sanders asked all seven whether health care should be a right for all people regardless of income. It was interesting that two Americans from think tanks (Sally Pipes and David Hogberg) were the only ones who said no. But when Sanders asked them if they felt that Medicare should be abolished, they were clearly uncomfortable and danced around the question. This exchange begins at the 54:00 mark.

One of the witnesses was Dr. Danielle Martin of the Women’s Health College in Toronto who was quite frank about the fact that wait times are a problem in Canada and that they are seeking ways to reduce them.

Republican senator Richard Burr of North Carolina asked questions designed to perpetuate the myth that the US has the best health care system in the world and Michael Hiltzik describes how Martin politely but sharply batted down all his loaded questions and handed him his hat. The best part came beginning at the 1:00:15 mark.

BURR: Why are doctors exiting the public system in Canada?

MARTIN: Thank you for your question, Senator. If I didn’t express myself in a way to make myself understood, I apologize. There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada, and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years.

BURR: On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?

MARTIN: I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.

Burr wisely decided to move on but not before mentioning that old chestnut that of course everyone in the US has access to health care because they can always go to the emergency room. It amazes me that they think that having parents haul their sick children into emergency rooms where they compete for attention with accident and victims of violence is an argument in favor of US health care.


  1. Al Dente says

    Every Canadian I’ve ever discussed the Canadian health care system with has said they wouldn’t give up what they have in favor of the American commercial insurance system.

  2. Bruce says


    This is a one-word answer that illustrates why emergency rooms do not constitute adequate medical care. People who need dialysis cannot normally expect to get it at an emergency room. Yet they can die within a week if they don’t get it when they need it.

  3. says

    Universal health care is anti-christian. Jesus loves the poor so he obviously wants them in heaven as soon as possible and delaying his will is a sin.
    Also, guns help. That’s why Jesus loves guns.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Doctors are exCiting the medical system in Canada – without them, everybody just sits around waiting for ’em, and that’s boring..

  5. smrnda says

    I wonder how long wait times are in the US when you add up people who have to wait and wait to get something done for lack of insurance of cost. I’ve met people who were putting off surgeries ‘until I have a new job with better insurance’ and some of them are still waiting.

    And the “you can go to the ER” is a useless lie, ERs don’t really treat chronic health conditions, and they don’t provide chemotherapy either.

  6. says

    As a Canadian, I want more of what we have. I want prescriptions and dental coverage under the single payer system too. I think the problem we have with wait times is mostly due to geography and demographics (e.g. having fully equipped and staffed hospitals in sparsely populated areas not being very efficient; having to travel to another province to get specialized care etc.) , not the fact that we pay for medicine through our taxes. In other words, adding insurance companies in the middle to get rich off of people’s suffering wouldn’t solve that problem anyway.

  7. says

    And another thing: if you have an urgent health issue you don’t have to wait. Of course, this means that people who have less urgent care need to wait a bit longer, but isn’t that what we want? For people with the most serious, urgent needs to be bumped to the front of the line? That’s a feature, not a bug.

  8. Ephiral says

    Conservatives up here rumble about our “long wait times” every so often, too. It’s just as much bullshit. The National Post once tried to outrage people with the news that, in extremely rare and extraordinary circumstances, people were sent to the US at government expense for necessary care. I came away thinking our health care system is awesome, and like Ibis3, I want more of it.


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