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News of the Day ... In Perspective

4/20/2007

Private medicine could help staunch Canadian brain drain

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, one in nine Canadian-trained physicians—and one in five specialists—now practices in the United States.

“No wonder…nearly two million of us are without a family physician,” states the lead editorial in Canada’s national newspaper (National Post 4/16/07).

In most provinces, no more than 15% of doctors are accepting new patients. In Ontario, the largest “have” province, the figure is just 10%.

The exodus is the equivalent of having two of 17 medical schools producing physicians for the U.S. every year for the past 25 years.

“It’s not hard to see the cause: socialized medicine” reads a bold-faced break-out quotation.

There was a dramatic spike in physician departures in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s “as government gained more and more control over primary and specialized care.” Not only were doctors limited in the way they could practice medicine, they were seen by bureaucrats as “cost centres.”

Fewer doctors meant fewer tests, fewer procedures, and fewer billings to medicare.

More taxpayer money won’t solve the problem. To keep and attract more doctors, government will have to permit them to earn more money. And “the additional money is going to have to come from consumers.”

In British Columbia, a “whiff of freedom” is in the air, writes John Williamson, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (National Post 4/17/07). A Vancouver clinic that was forbidden to treat B.C. residents in December has re-opened its doors to the public.

The False Creek Urgent Care Centre will charge $199 for a basic medical evaluation and offer patients a menu of other services. The clinic owner, Dr. Mark Godley, has imported a business model from Quebec. He has recruited physicians from outside the province not enrolled in B.C.’s Medical Service Plan.

Some opponents of timely medical access are worried that more Canadian-trained doctors will follow the False Creek example and opt out of the public system, thereby starving it of needed talent. Yet the results of a new study suggest that Canada’s socialist medical system is itself the cause of our country’s doctor shortage,” writes Williamson.

Citing the study referenced above, Williamson thinks that “the economics of Canada’s stifling command-and-control medical system is responsible for this exodus of talent. Permitting more private care, choice and competition in Canada will result in more doctors working in Canada, not fewer.”

Public opinion has shifted: “Fewer and fewer Canadians believe mandatory wait lines are superior to private alternatives.” Some, apparently, are even willing to pay for something that is covered by public insurance.

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