Talking Points on Health Care #19: More Money Won’t Cure Nationalized Health Care

Supporters of single-payer government health care typically argue that long waits for medical care in countries with such systems can be blamed on those governments not spend enough on health care. However, an analysis of waiting times and health spending in the Canadian national health system found that increasing government health spending has virtually no effect on waiting times.1 Among the study’s findings:

* Increasing total, per capita government health spending had no net effect on overall waiting times in 9 of the 10 Canadian provinces.

* Provinces with more government health spending per capita do not experience shorter waiting times, nor do they obtain more procedures for their money. In fact, they get fewer major surgeries and total procedures.

* Spending more per capita on cancer chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and cardiovascular surgery actually resulted in longer waiting times for those procedures.

* Only increased per capita government spending on drugs actually reduced waiting times for patients. However, relative to other sectors (hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, etc.), prescription drugs receives a small share of both current (6%) and new (1%) Canadian government health spending.

The implication is, “that increases in health spending are either consumed by wage and price increases or are for some reason being devoted to nonsurgical uses.” The real problem is that government health systems don’t provide the right incentives for health care providers to treat patients quickly and efficiently. Absent major reforms and privatization, no amount of government spending will eliminate medical care waiting lists in a national health system. Indeed, Canada already spends more on health care than all but three countries in the world.2

Until such reforms, Canadians will still be able to joke that, “Thanks to our universal health care system, we are all entitled to wait in pain together for treatment.”


1 Zelder, Martin, “Spend More, Wait Less? The Myth of Underfunded Medicare in Canada,” The Freaser Institute, Vancouver, September 2000. This paper can be found at:

2 Canada spends 9.3% of GDP on health care, the same as France and less than only the U.S. (12.4%), Switzerland (10.4%), and Germany (10.3%). Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD Health Data 2001 Table 10: Total expenditure on health, %GDP, OECD, Paris. The table can be found at:,,EN-statistics-12-nodirectorate-no-no–12,00.html

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