Canadian Health Care: The End of Innovation?

drawbacks of the Canadian health care system

President Obama said that the government is going to "fix what is broken about health care in America." It sounds like a great idea, but often what sounds good has unintended consequences.

When the government takes over, many critics say that you may not get the care and breakthroughs you need to save your life.

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"The only way they can get costs down under a government-run system is to control the amount of money that is spent on health care," says Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, who was born in Canada, and is wary about government taking the reins of health care in the U.S.

"We are going to have denied care, lack of access to the latest technology, and long waiting lists, just like people do in Canada and Great Britain," she warns.

In those countries, the government pays for all health care, and bureaucrats put limits on spending in order to control costs. They determine how much doctors can be reimbursed and put caps on the amount of money that can be spent on treatments.

The result of all this cost-cutting? People wait for care.

In England, shortages of dentists have caused hundreds of people to wait in line just for an appointment. The queues can be so long that some people have resorted to pulling out their own rotting teeth, using vodka and pliers as tools. One British hospital even tried to save money by not changing bed sheets. Instead of washing them, a British newspaper reported that the staff was encouraged to simply turn the sheets over. At any given time in Great Britain, there are over half a million people waiting to get into a hospital for treatments.

But Obama has said he doesn't want a government takeover of health care.

"When you hear the naysayers claim that I'm trying to bring about government-run health care," he told the American Medical Association last week, "know this -- they're not telling the truth."

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Public vs. Private Plans: Cost, Care, Competition

Canada and Great Britain have what's called a "single-payer" health care system: the government pays for everyone's health care using tax revenue. It's true that Obama says he doesn't want a health care system exactly like that.

Instead, he says he wants to set up a public insurance program run by the government that will compete alongside private insurance plans. However, critics warn that a plan like this won't allow private insurers to compete on a level playing field. They say the government will keep costs down for their public plan by setting payment rates for doctors below the market level, the same way that Medicare does now.

"What will happen in the long run is that private insurers will not be able to compete with the government on price," Pipes predicts, "so they will leave the market."

Critics like Pipes say that when the size and power of a government plan grow large enough, public insurers will crowd private insurers out of the health care market and American health care will become a de facto government-run system, like Canada or Great Britain.

"People line up for care. Some of them die. That's what happens," Dr. David Gratzer says of Canada's health care system.

Gratzer, a Canadian doctor, thought Canada's government health care system was great -- until he started treating patients.

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