Canadian Health Care: The End of Innovation?

"The more time I spent in the Canadian system, the more I came across people waiting for radiation therapy. Waiting for the knee replacement so they could finally walk up to the second floor of their house," he explained.

"You want to see your neurologist because of your stress headache? No problem! You just have to wait six months," he continued. "You want an MRI? No problem! Free as the air. You've just got to wait six months."

Many ER doctors in Canada agree that the system is broken. They say hospitals face a consistent shortage of bed space, and patients often have to wait.

While people in America also wait in emergency rooms, the wait is different in Canada. When patients go to the ER for treatment and are found to be sick enough to enter the hospital, they have to wait in the emergency room for an average of 19 hours before they can be given a hospital bed.

"We can't send these patients to other hospitals that have capacity because there is no other hospital in the area that has capacity," said Dr. Eric Letovsky, an ER doctor from Ontario. "Every other emergency department in the country is just as packed as we are."

Serious Drawbacks to Canadian Model

A national shortage of general practitioners in Canada means that 1.7 million Canadians don't have access to a regular doctor to go to for routine care.

The town of Norwood, Ontario, has only one family doctor available to serve the entire community. To ration the patient list, the town clerk holds a lottery once a month, drawing a few names out of a box that contains all of the people hoping to get on the doctor's patient list. She calls the lucky winners, but everyone else must continue to wait.

It's true that America's partly-private, profit-driven system is expensive and sometimes wasteful, but that pursuit of profit has allowed our health care system to offer rapid delivery, great doctors, and incredible lifesaving discoveries.

"This is the country of medical innovation. This is where people come when they need treatment," said Gratzer.

Thousands come from countries with government-run health care to take advantage of the advanced care in the United States. The famous Spanish tenor Jose Carreras didn't get treated for cancer in Spain -- he went to Seattle. King Hussein of Jordan came to America for treatment. So did Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"Literally, we're surrounded by medical miracles. Death by cardiovascular disease has dropped by two-thirds in the last 50 years," said Gratzer. "You've got to pay a price for that type of advancement,"

The reality is that there are always trade-offs in life. Although government "universal coverage" promises great things like equal care and that no one need worry that an illness will bankrupt them, government control also means waiting in lines and sometimes going without care.

Innovations like birth control pills, cholesterol medication, robotic limbs, and many other things, would not have happened without the possibility of big profit, said Grace Marie Turner of the Galen Institute.

"I want companies to come up with cures for Parkinson's, cures for cancer, cures for Alzheimer's. Unless there is a reward for them to do that, we're not going to have those new medicines," she said.

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