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As Medicare for All becomes a more popular political demand, this right-wing talking point on waits for Canadian health care grows ever more shrill. Even some good liberals fret about the long waits our northern brethren suffer. They’re not completely wrong, but the problem isn’t nearly as salient as people think it is. Christopher Hayes — not the MSNBC host, but the medical director of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who has studied wait times in both countries — told Shanoor Servai of the Commonwealth Fund last year,

“So if you are in a hospital and you need surgery, you don’t wait. It gets done in — if it needs to be done in thirty minutes, it will be done in thirty minutes. If you need an MRI for care provided in a hospital you will get it whenever — depending on where you are because not every hospital has an MRI, but you will be prioritized and that will happen probably as quickly as it can be done anywhere.”

In the Canadian health care system, if you have cancer and need surgery to remove it, it will be provided right away, because cancer gets worse if left unaddressed. Similarly, I took a kid with a concussion to a Montreal hospital once, and he was seen immediately (also, I never got a bill, and the pediatric nurse was terribly knowledgeable about concussions, because hockey). Canadians do face long waits for cataracts and hip replacements and other nonemergency procedures. Sometimes rich people complain about these because they feel their money should entitle them to get attention more quickly than other people, but socialized medicine doesn’t work that way, and of course, it shouldn’t.

Canadian wait times for doctor appointments, after-hours care, emergency room care, and specialists are also higher than those in other countries. But this isn’t intrinsic to equitable and accessible medicine, as the Fraser Institute’s copious yearly data show. France has the lowest emergency room wait times. The Netherlands has the shortest wait for after-hours care. Wait times aren’t even intrinsic to a single-payer system; after all, in the United States, Medicare is a single-payer system and recipients don’t face long wait times for hip replacements. As the (hardly socialist) AARP points out, the way to fix wait times is to “spend more money,” and Canada hasn’t done that.

Even in the United States — where people are dying because they can’t get insulin — I’m not the only person waiting around. Within the profession, doctors are told to make patients wait, as a marketing ploy; it teaches patients that the doctor’s time is more important than theirs. More seriously, patients here wait an average of twenty-four days to get an appointment with a doctor, even in large urban areas with plenty of doctors, according to a 2017 study, and that represents an increase of 30 percent from 2014.

Every time I’ve been to the emergency room (always with an elderly person or a child), we have waited for hours. A ProPublica study found emergency rooms at a breaking point from overcrowding, with patients leaving without even being seen. Once I took a baby with an alarmingly high fever to the emergency room; we waited so long that the baby got better just sitting there. Many aren’t so fortunate. In fact, this problem is killing people: a study of California emergency rooms found that patients who went to a very crowded emergency room had a 5 percent greater chance of dying.

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