About one million Canadians waited for medically necessary treatment last year, costing $2.1 billion in lost wages, according to a study by public policy think-tank the Fraser Institute.
“Waiting for medically necessary treatment remains a hallmark of the Canadian health-care system, and in addition to increased pain and suffering -- and potentially worse medical outcomes -- these long waits also cost Canadians time at work and with family and friends,” said Bacchus Barua, associate director of health policy studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of The Private Cost of Public Queues for Medically Necessary Care, 2019.
The study finds that the more than one million patients who waited for medically necessary treatment last year each lost an average of $1,924 because of lost wages and reduced productivity during working hours. Combined that totals $2.1 billion.
The study draws upon data from the Fraser Institute’s Waiting Your Turn study, an annual survey of Canadian physicians who recently reported a median wait time of 11 weeks from the time of a specialist appointment to treatment. That’s three weeks longer than what physicians consider clinically reasonable.
$2 billion likely a low estimate
The $2.1 billion in lost wages is likely a conservative estimate because it doesn’t account for the additional 8.7-week wait to see a specialist after receiving a referral from a general practitioner. Taken together (11 weeks and 8.7 weeks), the median wait time in Canada for medical treatment was 19.8 weeks in 2018.
“As long as lengthy wait times define Canada’s health-care system, patients will continue to pay a price in lost wages and reduced quality of life,” Barua said.
Last year, residents of Manitoba faced the highest per-patient cost of waiting ($2,852), followed by P.E.I. ($2,594) and Alberta ($2,538).