Waiting Lists are Very Pricy in Canada
Prolonged waits for medical treatment caused $15-billion of damage last year to the health of the Canadian economy, according to a new study released yesterday by Canada’s doctors.
Conducted for the Canadian Medical Association by the Centre for Spatial Economics, the study measured the impact of the absence of both patients and their caregivers from the work force, as well as the increased costs of extra appointments, tests and medication required when patients languish in a queue.
When those factors were totalled, the authors concluded that it cost the economy $14.8-billion in 2007 to have patients wait longer than medically recommended for four procedures: joint replacements, cataract surgery, coronary bypasses and MRI scans. And that, in turn, cut federal and provincial revenues by $4.4-billion, the study says.
“Governments have a legal, moral – and economic duty to deliver timely care,” Brian Day, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, said yesterday in a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto where the results of the study were unveiled.
“Let’s recognize the economic costs and financial liabilities of waiting patients for what they are: an unfunded liability on the books of governments. I strongly believe that auditors-general should insist that finance ministers write this debt into their annual budgets.”
The four procedures examined in the study were among five identified by federal and provincial governments in 2005 as part of an initial push to reduce queues for treatment. And there was some positive news: Last year, the majority of patients generally received treatment at or before the maximum recommended waiting-time limit.
But many did not.
The study found that the average Canadian patient who was not treated within the medically acceptable period in 2007 waited a year for a hip or knee replacement and seven months for cataract surgery. Cardiac patients not treated within the recommended period had to wait an average of more than three months for coronary artery bypass surgery.
The study’s authors took into account the fact that different conditions have different impacts. For instance, most people can lead relatively ordinary lives waiting for cataract surgery, but joint problems can be severely disabling and heart patients are often counselled to stop most of their regular activities.
They also factored in age and other factors to weed out those likely to be retired.
And finally they used average wages across 14 different industry sectors to calculate the costs.
In the end, they determined that waiting longer than recommended for joint replacement surgery cost the economy an average of $26,400 per patient, followed by MRIs at $20,000, coronary artery bypass graft surgery at $19,400, and cataract surgery at $2,900.
But Dr. Day said he believes those numbers are “extremely conservative.”
“They address only the wait time to treatment after a specialist’s consultation and recommendation,” he said. “And [they] exclude the growing and significant costs of waiting to see the GP or specialist.”
The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, conducted its own study last year and estimated the cross-Canada cost of waiting for medical treatment to be “at least $793-million,” a figure that is significantly lower than the study done for the CMA.
But neither the authors of the new report nor Nadeem Esmail, who did the research for the Fraser Institute, find the results of the two studies to be contradictory.
“They have looked at a very broad range of costs,” said Mr. Esmail, who said his own study was limited to the private cost of waiting for treatment from the patient’s perspective.
The CMA study, on the other hand, “is a very complex methodology and quite detailed,” he said, “but I think what it does capture is the economic effect of having these people out of the labour force.”