August 11, 2009, - 3:45 pm

ObamaCare: A Canadian Wait Time Preview; Canada Encourages Patients to Dr. Shop for Shorter Waits

By Debbie Schlussel

Despite Barack Obama’s claim that ObamaCare isn’t like Canadian healthcare, that’s exactly what it’s like.  And here’s a nice preview, courtesy of the Canadian province of Ontario’s falsely-named Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which marks the wait times for getting treatment for various ailments in Canada’s most populated province, the one that contains the “sophisticated” New York of Canada, Toronto.  You know what’s great about our healthcare system?  We don’t have wait time charts because we don’t have wait times.  We get treated right away.

I’m not surprised by this scary chart because my cousing Myrna, who lived in Toronto, went blind waiting for the Canadian healthcare system to treat black spots in her eye.  Then, she died.



Thanks to David Lunde/Lundesigns for Help w/Images

Writes reader Peter:

According to this June 2009 posting, the wait time for an MRI in Ontario is 100 days . . . which is down from 120 days.

So you need an MRI because your doctor worries that something is wrong. You wait and worry for 100 days. (Here, in the US, you wait and worry for a day or two.) Once you get your MRI in Ontario, then you get on the wait list to see your doctor again to discuss the results. If the MRI shows that you do need a procedure, you put your name on the wait list for that.

It’s no wonder it takes years to get an “elective” procedure like a hip or a knee replacement.

(An aside about “elective” procedures – years ago a 70-year-old with bad knees or bad hip joints got two canes and then a wheel chair. Today they get new knees or new hips…and a return to an active and productive life.)

Interesting fact: There are 50-some MRI machines in all of Ontario (that includes some major cities – Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, etc.)… and, amazingly, 50-some MRI machines just in the eight counties of Western New York (Greater Buffalo). It’s not that Western New Yorkers are high-utilizers, it’s that the area hugs the border. Canadians come over the bridge to get the care they need. We see that same situation in border cities across the US.

Here’s a press release from 2002, documenting the cross-border MRI shopping.

Also, read this from the Buffalo News about how Canadian government’s doctors are recommending telling patients the urgency of their conditions and how long they can wait for treatment, so they can travel around the country and “doctor shop,” so they can find a doctor with a shorter wait time.

Being able to pinpoint the areas where the waiting lists are the shortest, it is hoped, encourages them to move around more within their individual province as they seek care. But the idea of entering a hospital or surgical facility that may be many miles away from their own neighborhood is not something that many find appealing.

Nevertheless, traveling to another area for surgery is an option that is available depending on the urgency of the procedure required.

A very recent trawl of the government Web site revealed the often-substantial geographic differences in wait times. At St. Joseph’s Health Center in Toronto, the wait time for breast cancer surgery was listed as 48 days, while approximately 85 miles away at Peterborough Regional Health Center, the wait time was only 18 days.

St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto listed a wait time of 113 days for its general surgery, while some 58 miles away at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, one need wait only 46 days.

At Kingston General Hospital, a wait time of 73 days existed for bypass surgery, but 160 miles away, at the University Health Network in Toronto, there was only a 35-day wait.

Feel like traveling and traipsing across America to timbuktu, so you can see a doctor?

Me, neither.

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30 Responses

The problem with government-run health care isn’t the cost or even availability. Let’s suppose America’s state governments can run it better than the Canadian provinces do. Americans still face a loss of freedom in managing their own lives. What the government gives with the one hand it can take away with the other hand. Should Obamacare pass, America will be irrevocably changed. And it will be impossible to ever reverse it. That is why Obamacare must be stopped before it becomes law.

NormanF on August 11, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I love you, Debbie. In a perfect universe, you’d be President of the USA.

DS_ROCKS! on August 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Obamacare is Medicare on steroids–supposed health insurance “reform” with just more talk about the real problem and that is the rising COST of health care. Socialized health care started in 19th century Germany as a way to pacify the populace yet maintain the elitist status quo in monarchial Prussia. Cough up something original Barry. Check this link out for more info:

JohN HENRY on August 11, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I have never in the past 5 years had to wait even a day for an MRI. I was always able to just go down to the ground floor of the hospital, wait in a small line, and be attended.

luagha on August 11, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    It’s frightening.

    If they really wanted reform, they would have a provision to limit medical malpractice suits. They don’t. I guess Obama is catering to pharmaceuticals and the American Trial Association among others…

    goldenmike4393 on August 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm

It is hard to dispute an actual Canadian website on this subject. If anything, the Canadian Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care would have an incentive to make the waiting times look better than they actually are. Also, some of these procedures are time sensitive, such as cancer surgery. If the baselines are used for the MRI and Cancer Surgery wait times, one could find oneself waiting over six months before any actualy surgery took place. As most of us know, that stretch of time could mean the difference between recovery or fatality in a cancer case. What good is affordable healthcare if you cannot access it in a timely manner? It is like calling “911” during a burglary in progress and being told that there will be a 2-3 hour wait time for any response. We will be seeing quite a few people needlessly dying if such a system is adopted.

Sorrow01 on August 11, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    It should be pointed out the Supreme Court Of Canada, no conservative body, legalized private health insurance in a case that came from Quebec, after it was noted long wait times in practice meant no health care at all. If private health insurance is banned here, that all but ensures the practical effect of waiting for medical treatment. What good is “free care” when you can’t access it in a timely manner? But those are the kinds of questions Obamacare supporters can’t or won’t answer.

    NormanF on August 11, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I live in Ontario and I’m not going to claim we have a great or perfect system. But it’s not a system where people are dropping dead waiting for medical attention as opponents to Medicare or Obamacare seem to portray.

That said, I’m 43 and in pretty good health and have never needed any major medical intervention. But I have made trips to the doctor and hospitals over the years and of course I have never been billed a cent for treatment.

I have had family members and friends who have needed some serious care (from major surgeries to cancer treatment etc)… doctors certainly make an evaluation on your wait time based on the severity of your condition but I don’t know of anyone personally who was denied treatment and died because of it.

That doesn’t mean it has never happened but I think opponents to Obama will look for search for any story where a person dies in Canada and exploit it as “See what happens when you socialize health care?”… and will just as quickly ignore the bad stories in a health care for profit situation. Imean, has anyone ever died in the USA because they couldn’t afford adequate health care? I bet it wouldn’t be hard to find some horror stories that could just as easily be exploited by the other side of this argument.

Both sides are guilty of Michael Moore style spin in this debate.

Jambo on August 11, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    I’m a little older than you and am in good health. I haven’t been struck by a catastrophic illness yet. There is a trade-off involved and even if government health care was well run, it wouldn’t change the fact we’ve already been diminished in a way for which no amount of money can make up. We’re not even addressing the real issue. When I was a young man, I was reading the preface to the famous novel “O” by Pauline Reage about sexual bondage, and its mentioned that in a slave revolt in Haiti, the slaves went back to their former condition. In short, do we really value freedom as an American ideal? I suspect we’re soon going to find out if we do.

    NormanF on August 11, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Only 43 yrs old? Don’t worry, your day will come.

    goldenmike4393 on August 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Dear Jambo:

    You have never utilized the system for elective surgery. Therefore, you don’t know jack. Further, unlike me, you have never been a senior consultant in such a system.

    My wife needed elective back surgery when I practiced in New Zealand. The wait time was 2 YEARS. In the US, she got her surgery at the best in the World, Mayo Clinic (US News #1 Neurosurgery program in the US), 2 months after getting in the system. Perfect results.

    This was NZed, true. But here’s an interesting thing. No one in the US goes over the border for out of pocket care in Canada. I’ve treated a number of Canadians in the US.

    Occam's Tool on July 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Keep up the great work! Excellent post!

Steve on August 11, 2009 at 10:07 pm

No government can ever run anything as effectively as the private sector. I would challenge anybody to show me just one government run program that they do better than the private sector. Cost overruns, mismanagement, fraud, quota hirings and other politically correct nonsense is commonplace for any government enterprise. Has the U. S. government ever run anything that has produced a profit? The only profit they get is out of my paycheck.

Jarhead on August 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

By the way, at the so-called Town Hall meeting…PLANT ALERT!

Do not expect Tingles Matthews to report on it for M-S-NAZI-B-C!

Bob Porrazzo on August 12, 2009 at 9:34 am

When I was in London (2001-2), the scam there was to be registered with a fake address in the neighborhood which had the “better” clinic… that was the “choice” for finding better doctors/services….

SumDum Phool on August 12, 2009 at 10:34 am

Typical scare tactics. Sure there are examples of long waits, poor service, etc. in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe. Guess what, we have them too! And do you really think the US health care system is working well? More than 30 million uninsured people? Soaring costs? Price gouging by insurance companies? Believe it or not, a single payer model actually works in the countries where it exists. But we wouldn’t want ordinary Americans to know about that, now, would we?

Jonathan on August 12, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I am a Canadian that has experienced all aspects of out government run health care system. I’ve had family members and myself fight cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc. Not once have I or a family member had to wait in line when the condition was a matter of life or death – surgery was, and is, immediate in all cases. True, you will wait for non-life threatening and elective surgeries in Canada. But our system works and the greatest statistic attesting to this is our average life expectancy. Canadians on average live 3 to 4 years longer ( even Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the US).

Canada’s system isn’t perfect, but it’s a model that’s been in the works for decades. It’s constantly under review and being tweeked. Not to be a jerk, but the US Congress lacks the intelligence to craft such complicated legislation and with the Republican minority ignorantly sabotaging every effort, I really doubt there will ever be reform.

Jason on August 13, 2009 at 3:10 am

I’d like to know where you all live that you don’t have to wait for healthcare? I live in NY and getting an appointment for ANYTHING that is not immediately “life threatening” is at least a two-week wait. And I am insured.

My partner (also insured) went to her dermatalogist with a rash and they told her “two weeks.” She works in the same building and even showed the rash on her arms to the receptionists; they still gave her an appointment 2 weeks in the future. She tried another dermatologist who gave her a similar story. It’s been almost 5 days since, and the rash has not gone away. Private doctors. Private insurance. Yet, she may still actually have to go to the ER to get this treated.

Having a public option is not going to make anything better or worse in this regard. However it will ensure that people do have access to some form of healthcare (because something is better than nothing). How many people have died in the US because they can’t afford the premiums? How many more have died because they’ve been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions? How many uninsured have gone bankrupt due to a freak accident or an unforseen health crisis? TOO MANY.

My coworkers in the UK and Australia are continually shocked at how debased our healthcare system is. Not a single one would trade places with me.

jillsr on August 13, 2009 at 12:53 pm

I am from Canada orginially living in the U.S for over 10 years now. I do not know or have not heard of anyone dying “waiting for treatment” in Canada but I do know people who have died here because their insurance co. refused to cover them once they became terminally ill. Can you imagine being diagnosed with a terminal illness and having to fight that on top of fighting your insurance company to continue coverage even though you are still making payments on your policy. Yes, Canada’s system is not perfect but neither is the one here in the U.S. If Canada is so third worldish then why is then that they have the highest life expectancy than those of their U.S counterpart? I think that we Americans need to stand up take charge and get informed. Think about it, the Insurance companies in America want us to reject this universal health care because they stand to lose momey – what do you stand to lose???Health insurance is only good until you actually need it – sort of like house insurance. How many of you paid your premiums yet your ins company still refused coverage when you needed it the most?

mariem on August 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I have lived in the US all of my life and I don’t know a single person who has ever been denied any type of health care treatment or who has ever died from not getting health care. I have had two types of cancer and have been insured by several different insurance companies. I was taken aside by both and told not to worry about the million dollar cap on my insurance.(meaning they would pay whatever it took for my health care). I go to the doctor and I tell him I am not feeling well and I want this test or that test and I get the test the next day if I want it. Everyone I know has the same experiences I have had with private insurers. If I am not happy with my doctor,on a whim, I just pick up and go to another doctor. If I want to see a specialist,I call and get an appointment with a specialist. I don’t have to have a referral.

    Karen on March 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm

If you suggested to a group of Canadians that we should give up our health care system and adopt the same system that the US has, 95% of us would laugh in your face.

orangutan on August 15, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I am attaching an excerpt from my blog, O Damcanada Obamacare, in response to your article. I find it surprising that you would write an article supposedly based on fact (ie. statistics from the correctly named Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care in Ontario) and then take a swipe at the veracity of those facts without one iota of proof to back up your claim that these facts are wrong. This seems to typify the recent tendency of some people in the U.S. to attack the Canadian healthcare system in an effort to denigrate Obama’s proposals. I firmly believe that, before you make such bold statements regarding Canadian healthcare, you should have a lot more research and information as a foundation for your claim than you evidently. This is easily achieved either through research or experience, neither of which you seem to have. In any case, the following is the aforementioned excerpt from my blog.

I am perturbed by the temptation of so many of the anti- Obamacare crusaders to indulge in attacking the Canadian healthcare system. There are a number of reasons this disturbs me deeply. Primarily, their attacks are based on dredging up a few negative articles and opinion pieces which may highlight some of the shortcomings of universal care. (I don’t pretend our system is perfect – what human political-economic system is?) These types of articles, unfortunately, far outnumber the positive ones because the smooth functioning of a decades old system isn’t newsworthy. It doesn’t garner attention simply because we, as Canadians who have had the privilege of having been served by this system, know that it is healthy, beneficial and above-all universal. There is not one citizen in Canada ever denied quality medical treatment based on ability to pay. If a patient needs a heart transplant, a family doctor, an emergency room visit, they get in line behind everyone else regardless of income. And these lines are not as long as our American critics would have the rest of the world believe.

My father recently needed knee replacement surgery and his operation was scheduled within a month of the assessment by the specialist. One month! Two weeks ago my daughter was bitten by a raccoon and needed rabies shots – she began the course of treatment the same day. My sister died two years ago before which she was in palliative care (compassionate, caring palliative care) for 9 months. My son has ADHD and he has had top quality care since he was 5 years old. I had cancer 15 years ago and was treated immediately and I’m still here to tell the tale. I could never imagine complaining about our healthcare anymore than I could look a gift horse in the mouth.

Our detractors in the U.S. don’t dare peek behind the curtain for fear of seeing the reality. The reality is we have an outstanding, compassionate system that treats everyone equally and removes the fear of not being able to pay for treatment. It offers comfort in a difficult world. Comfort which should be available to everyone equally since we are all, equally, citizens of our country. We may not all be able to contribute equally on an economic level but that is a mere function of capitalism and not of human worth and value.

Ultimately,no matter what way you slice the pie, it is better to have coverage than no coverage at all. it is better to have equal access to health care than hugely disproportionate, ad hoc access. The Canadian system gives me untold comfort in raising my 3 children and I wouldn’t trade it for all the capitalism in the world.


tymlee on September 17, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you so much for wording it so well.
    Americans are ignorant to the short comings of their own system. It is a great system for the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry, doctors and lawyers. The patient is being ripped off by all of the above: High premiums, louzy coverage, physicians of which half you can’t understand, insurance bureaucrats who make the medical decisions, unnecessary tests performed because it pays so damn well (for liability reasons, LMAO).
    Why is it always criticizing the UK and Canada’s system. Please fellow right wingers: How is the healthcare in the other 20 some industrialized nations? Why does no one ever mention Sweden, Norway, France, Belgium, Spain etc.?…….Because the truth is: Their healthcare is better, and they have the stats to prove it. I don’t say it’s perfect but it is better and cheaper.
    The term “Socialized Medicine” is an American politician’s invention. Everything you don’t want the paupers to have you call “socialized” so you can continue to rip them off and suck them dry.
    Who would support our “Socialized Defense System”? Although it is 100% paid with taxpayers money and ran by the government. It is still our “Military Forces”.

    Kees161 on September 17, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I am Canadian and have had some medical issues which required immediate attention, and the mere fact that I can goto any hospital and not have to worry about paying any money, or my insurance company having to cover me is why I believe the Canadian health care system is better than what America has today. I have a low income but never do I worry about having to make any payments to an insurance company.

As far as waiting for elective surgery. People have to take into consideration that 30 million people(which is almost Canada’s population) do not have any insurance whatsoever. They have to live with the fact that they can not get simple treatment which the average American can get. Another thing no one is taking into consideration is the cost of surgery, sure elective surgery has a waiting period of 2-4 months, but it is completely FREE to any Canadian citizen. Once the surgery is complete, we don’t face the burden of incurring debt to try and payoff medical bills and expenses.

The only Americans that I believe actually know how well Canadians have it with health care are the ones that are not insured. No one that I know, being friends, family or work colleagues would ever choose the American private health care system over what we have, generally you will get a laugh or a scoff in response.

Jay on October 13, 2009 at 10:33 pm

The problem I see in insurance based healthcare, private or government sponsored, in general is the fact that doctors fees are so inflated to an unbelievable point. Back in 1970 I was treated for cancer and each session was for about $75 per hour or session. Today a patient pays on the average $150-250 and in most cases the insurance company will only pay 1/2, guess what? Out of pocket cost is still the same, however, doctors and medical establishments are just making double to triple the money for no reason what so ever, technology was much more expensive in the old days! Due to insurance based healthcare, cost went up. Today, I cannot even get insurance that can cover any part of my body that was treated 39 years ago, so here we are riding the train of B.S. anyway you look at it.

Breckenridge on January 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I’m a canadian student, styudying for my PharmD. in the U.S. I would choose Canada’s system over the US any day. I have had 17 surgeries in Canada. All of which were performed in a timely manner, never waited for an MRI. This is in Toronto by the way. Been to the emergency room several times never waited more than an hour.

If America thinks their health care isn’t “socialized” I beg to differ. You have private industry dictating to you what is covered, what doctors to see, how much you pay (which is astronomical), and worse of all when you do get sick they just rescind their coverage.

Canada’s system is far more efficient with far better health outcomes. Just look at the statistics.

ren on February 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Well, a little late as the ObamaCare seems to have passed but listening to the Canadians on here talk about the wonderful health care system is really very amusing. They talk about free…nothing is free… health care in Canada accounts for close to 40% of the total tax’s paid in Canada.

Now the realities.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer (bladder) last December. She was referred to the local Cancer Agency. If you can believe it we never received a call and I had to call them not once but three times. They indicated that an appointment would be from 12 to 16 weeks with treatment to follow after that. So then, a potential wait time of up to four months to treat bladder cancer. Needless to say this was not acceptable and she was accepted to the Mayo clinic in Rochester in early January where she is currently residing and receiving treatment. Arrived on the 12th of January and was in treatment by the 15th. 3 days not 4 months. Of course the Canadian health care system has advised they will not be covering any of our costs which as you may well imagine are approaching $100,000.00 (odd in that my wife and I personally have contributed millions in taxes to a system that has failed us). The Mayo Oncologists were asked about a delay of three to four months and they clearly indicated that a wait of this length, considering my wifes condition would have been unacceptable. (actually a bit more blunt than that)

There you have a typical story of our great Canadian Health Care system. While at the Mayo over the past few weeks I have met many Canadians with similar stories.

Thankfully, my wife seems to be making encouraging progress thanks to an American facility and no thanks to the Canadian Health care system which had all but passed a “d***th” sentence.

Hopefully your US system will not atrophy to the extent of the Canadian Health Care system.


A on March 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Hey A, I am very relieved to hear that you were fortunate enough to have the money to buy your wife’s treatment. Just as it is in the US, anyone in Canada who is in the position to contribute millions in taxes surely has no reason to suffer. A system where everyone is treated equal regardless of income, nah, that’s not for blokes like you and I.

    TC on June 2, 2010 at 2:37 am

I’m a Canadian living in Alberta. I was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and had to wait three weeks to get a PET scan. Meanwhile in the US it would have been 3 days at the most. I’m a hard working engineer who studied his ass off to get a good job, why should I be treated like everyone else? At least give me the option to pay for a PET scan elswhere or something. Why should someone who is unemployed, getting paid a monthly salary by the government who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day get the same priority as me?

Danial on May 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

So, this mean that under Obamacare, they are going to get rid of all the MRI’s and CAT scan machine that are out there?. I don’t think so. Remember, Obamacare in some form becomes socialize medical for the people who don’t have insurance and I assume that group might have some waiting period for certain things but right now, those people have nothing for medical care. For the majority of Americans, everything pretty much stays the same.

Curtis on August 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

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