Canadian Court Chips Away at National Health Care

Canadian Court Chips Away at National Health Care (NYT | RSS)

The Canadian Supreme Court struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance today, dealing an acute blow to the publicly financed national health care system. The court stopped short of striking down the constitutionality of the country’s vaunted nationwide coverage, but legal experts said the ruling would open the door to a wave of lawsuits challenging the health care system in other provinces.

The system, providing Canadians with free doctor’s services that are paid for by taxes, has generally been supported by the public, and is broadly identified with the Canadian national character. But in recent years, patients have been forced to wait longer for diagnostic tests and elective surgery, while the wealthy and well connected either seek care in the United States or use influence to jump ahead on waiting lists.

The court ruled that the waiting lists had become so long that they violated patients’ “liberty, safety and security” under the Quebec charter, which covers about one-quarter of Canada’s population. “The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health care system are widespread and that in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care,” the Supreme Court ruled. “In sum, the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services.”

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by a Montreal family doctor, Jacques Chaoulli, who argued his own case through the courts, and by a chemical salesman, George Zeliotis, who was forced to wait a year for a hip replacement while being prohibited from paying privately for surgery

Interesting. In the United States, many advocates of nationalized health care point to the Canadian model as an exemplar. Perhaps they should rethink that.

crossposted to small dead animals

Update: Be sure to read the comments over at SDA, which has a much higher percentage of Canadian readers than OTB. They’ve got some good insights.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.