Is the Canadian Health Care System Better?

By Leard-Hansson, Jan | Clinical Psychiatry News, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Is the Canadian Health Care System Better?


Leard-Hansson, Jan, Clinical Psychiatry News


The Question

Americans have long looked to the Canadian universal health care system as the model for delivering health care, but is Canada's delivery system really better?

The Analysis

To help us answer this question, we turned to a recent case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada: Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2005 SCC 35. The decision was published June 9, 2005. (Information is taken entirely from the published decision as cited here and is available online at www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/rec/html/2005scc035.wpd.html.)

The Evidence

The role of public- and private-sector health care in Canada is not uniform across provinces. Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba prohibit physicians from charging patients more than they receive from the public plan, so there is no financial incentive for physicians to opt for the private sector.

Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador are open to the private sector. Saskatchewan, for example, allows private-sector physicians to set their own fees. These costs are not covered by the public plan (nor by provincial government), but patients can purchase private insurance. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government reimburses private-sector physicians up to the amount covered by the public plan only.

In Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec (where this precedent-setting case occurred), private-sector physicians are free to set their fees, but the cost of their services is not reimbursed by the provincial governments, and insurance to cover services offered by the public plan is prohibited. Additionally, services provided by nonphysicians, such as psychologists, are not covered.

In Canada, the public health care system has long been a source of national pride. Criticism, however, has become more commonplace as the demand for health care has risen. One of the tools used by provincial governments to control rising demand and costs has been to allow waiting lists for health care to develop and to then manage these lists. In its analysis, the Supreme Court of Canada wrote that the demand for health care is potentially unlimited and that waiting lists are a form of rationing: "Waiting lists are therefore real and intentional."

In this case, Jacques Chaoulli, M.D., and George Zeliotis claimed that the prohibition on private health insurance and the subsequent waiting lists deprived them of the rights to life, liberty, and security of persons guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (in essence, their federal and provincial constitutional rights).

Over the years, Mr. Zeliotis suffered a number of health problems. He used health services available in the public sector, including heart surgery and hip operations. …

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