Myth #7

Countries With National Health Insurance Maintain A High Quality Of Health Care.

Americans have been repeatedly told that at least in Canada's health care system the quality of care has not suffered because of national health insurance. Yet there are increasing reports by doctors and the news media of patient deaths and near-deaths, precisely because of the government's limits on access to technology and the resulting health care rationing. Here is one doctor's report of what conditions are like in Quebec:

"In my academic practice at a teaching neurologic hospital in Montreal, the wait for the treatment of a "minor" medical problem (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome) could be half a year or longer. What I considered essential services were unavailable. I recall losing an argument with the radiologist on call over whether a patient with a new stroke should have a CT scan at 5:05 p.m.; he judged that the situation was not an emergency serious enough to warrant performing the procedure after regular hours." [71]

Among the victims of Canada's system of health care rationing are the following well­known cases:

  • Malcolm Stevens of British Columbia died of a heart attack after two months on the waiting list. Ironically, that same day his doctor bumped another patient from the surgery schedule in order to make room for Stevens. [72]

  • Charles Coleman, a 64-year-old man, died shortly after a heart operation at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital. Coleman's operation had been postponed 11 times. [73]

  • Stella Lacroix's death started as a suicide. Moments after she swallowed a quart of cleaning fluid she raced to the nearest emergency room. Because the hospital wasn't equipped to perform the surgery she needed to stop the internal bleeding, the emergency room physician spent 3 1/2 hours contacting 14 hospitals in an effort to secure emergency surgery and an available intensive care bed. By the time she arrived at York Country Hospital, in Ontario, it was too late. She died that night. [74]

  • In January 1990, two-year-old Joel Bondy needed urgent heart surgery that was repeatedly postponed. Alarmed at their son's deteriorating condition, his parents contacted Heartbeat Windsor, an underground railroad for Canadian heart patients, to arrange for the surgery in Detroit. Embarrassed by media coverage of Joel's situation, Canadian officials promised Joel would be moved to the top of the waiting list. After a four­hour ambulance ride to a hospital which lacked an available bed, the family had to spend the night in a hotel. The next day Joel Bondy died. [75]

These examples are far from unique. Indeed, the Canadian press has produced scores of similar stories. The following are some additional examples:

  • According to one report, 24 people died in 1989 while waiting for heart surgery in British Columbia. [76]

  • At Winnipeg's Health Science Center, Manitoba's largest hospital, six heart patients died in 1988 before they reached the operating room. [77]

  • In Toronto, where about 1,000 people are facing waits as long as a year for bypass surgery at three hospitals, two patients died in two months. [78]

  • In January 1989, long waiting lists forced Toronto's highly respected Hospital for Sick Children to send home 40 children who needed heart surgery. [79]

  • At Moncton Hospital in New Brunswick, some patients were kept in hallways and even in closets, while 2,300 people were on the waiting list for surgery. [80]

  • Because of a four-month wait for mammograms at St. Clare's Hospital in Newfoundland in 1988, preventive screening became impossible and the hospital could handle only women who needed an immediate diagnosis. [81]

  • In September 1989, Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto announced it would not accept new cancer patients requiring radiation therapy for a six-week period in order to clear up a 300- patient backlog. [82]

  • In 1990, the only hospital doing cardiovascular surgery in northern Alberta had 210 adults and children on its waiting list – with some patients waiting as long as a year. [83]

  • In 1989, doctors at Brandon General Hospital said bed closings had left 91 patients, including cancer victims, waiting up to six weeks for urgent surgery. Most of the patients had cancer of the breast, large bowel or lungs. [84]

  • In 1989, the Health Minister of Newfoundland announced the closure of more than 400 beds due to lack of funds – one-eighth of all beds in public general hospitals in the province. [85]

  • In an interview with reporters on a Canadian Broadcasting Company program, ambulance drivers recounted how a patient's condition steadily deteriorated as they traveled from one emergency room to another in search of one that would take him. The patient died. [86]