Myth #3

In Countries With National Health Insurance, People Have A "Right" To Health Care.

Table 5

Virtually every government which has established a system of national insurance has proclaimed health care to be a basic human "right." Yet far from guaranteeing that right, most national health systems routinely deny care to those who need it. Not only do citizens have no enforceable right to any particular medical service, they don't even have a right to a place in line when health care is rationed. The 100th person waiting for heart surgery is not "entitled" to the one hundredth surgery, for example. Other patients can, and do, jump the queue for any number of reasons.

Figure 5

By U.S. standards, one of the cruelest aspects of government-run health care systems in other countries is the degree to which these systems engage in non-price rationing. Take the health care systems of Britain and New Zealand, for example. In both countries, hospital services are completely paid by government. Both also have long waiting lists for hospital surgery:

  • In Britain, with a population of about 57 million, the number of people waiting for surgery is more than one million. [27]

  • In New Zealand, with a population of three million, the waiting list is more than 50,000. [28]

  • In Canada, with a population of about 25 million, the waiting list is more than 250,000. [29]

On the surface, the number of people waiting may seem small relative to the total population – ranging from 1 percent in Canada to almost 2 percent in Britain. However, considering that only 16 percent of the people enter a hospital each year in developed countries [30] and that only about 4 percent require most of the serious (and expensive) procedures, [31] these numbers are quite high. [32] In New Zealand, for example, there is one person waiting for surgery for every three surgeries performed each year. [33]

In Britain and New Zealand, elderly patients in need of a hip replacement can wait in pain for years, and those awaiting heart surgery often are at risk of their lives. Perhaps because Canada has had a national health care program for only half as long, the rationing problems are not as great as they are in Britain and New Zealand, although all three countries have similar cultures. But because the demand for health care has proved insatiable, and because Canadian provincial governments severely limit hospital budgets, the waiting lines for surgery and diagnostic tests are growing:

  • As Table V and Figure V show, patients in British Columbia wait up to a year for routine procedures such as cholecystectomies, prostatectomies, hip replacements and surgery for hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

  • In Ontario, patients wait up to six months for a CAT scan, up to a year for eye surgery and orthopedic surgery, up to a year and four months for an MRI scan and up to two years for lithotripsy treatment. [34]

  • All over Canada, patients wait for coronary bypass surgery, while the Canadian press tells of heart patients dying on the waiting list. [35]