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Fraser Institute: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada May Be Linked to Increase in Female Death Rates

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (Marketwired) -- 05/20/14 -- Canada's growing wait times for health care may have contributed to the deaths of 44,273 Canadian women between 1993 and 2009, concludes a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

The study, The Effect of Wait Times on Mortality in Canada, examines the relationship between mortality rates and lengthy wait times for medically necessary care in Canada. As wait times between referral (from a general practitioner) and treatment increase, finds the study, so does the rate of female mortality.

"Deaths resulting from delayed medical care are unacceptable. Canadian taxpayers fund one of the developed world's most expensive universal access health care systems, yet delays for emergency care, primary care, specialist consultation and elective surgery are among the longest in the world," said Nadeem Esmail, study author and Fraser Institute senior fellow.

The estimated 44,273 deaths between 1993 and 2009 represent 2.5 per cent of all female deaths in Canada during that 16-year period, or 1.2 per cent of Canada's total mortality (male and female).

More specifically, during that same 16-year period, for every one-week increase in the post-referral wait time for medically necessary elective procedures, three female Canadians died (per 100,000 women).

In a separate analysis, the study finds that changes in wait times for cardiovascular treatments were associated with approximately 662 potentially avoidable female deaths between 1994 and 2009. These deaths represent 0.16 per cent of avoidable female deaths during the period.

No significant relationship between wait times and male mortality rates was found.

So what drives this gender disparity?

Possible factors include an increased participation among women in the workforce and differences in access to medical services.

"While the reasons for the potential gender difference remain unclear, the solution to the problem is obvious. Lengthy wait times for medically necessary treatment, and the deaths associated with them, are Canada's shame, but we can solve both problems through sensible policy reform," Esmail said.

So what can be done?

"Countries with relatively short health care wait times rely to varying degrees on market incentives and private competition, such as cost-sharing and competing private hospitals, within the universal health care system. Policymakers who cling to flawed policies, and argue against reform with rhetoric rather than fact, should consider whether Canadians who die while waiting for health care are being sacrificed to ideology," Esmail said.

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The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research.

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