Health care: Stop fearing private sector

I spent an entire month in the emergency room last night. I came in carrying my four-month-old son on my shoulders. He was crying and had trouble breathing. I whispered to him, “Keep it up, son. They’ll take care of us in no time.” Fifteen hours later, he was still coughing. The waiting room was filled. My shoulder was sore. So I started thinking about my next column.

We rely on the private sector to feed us, to dress us, to provide us with a roof over our heads. We let private companies repair our vision and pull our teeth. But allow the private sector into a hospital? Never! We prefer letting our fellow citizens die on a waiting list.

The healthcare system is cracking and throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. Competition, even if not a miracle solution, could help.

We can harness the knowledge and talent of our entrepreneurs, doctors and nurses. I say let them compete against each other in an effort to attract us into their hospital.

To succeed, they’ll have to offer a better service, and control costs. Would this leave us with an American-style healthcare system? No. Rather, with one similar to what Europe’s social-democratic countries enjoy.

In Denmark, if you wait more than one month for an operation, they send you to a private hospital.

In Sweden, the most efficient hospital, and the one most appreciated by Swedes, is listed (horror!) on the stock exchange. Swedes rich and poor get treated there, without paying a dime.

In France, 40 per cent of hospitals are privately owned and for profit. Each citizen has access to these hospitals’ doctors and first-class equipment — all paid for by the State.

In Belgium, the contribution of the private sector to healthcare eliminated waiting lists. Imagine getting an appointment and seeing a doctor on the same day.

Most importantly, everyone is covered by some form of public insurance. Let me repeat: There is no two-tier healthcare.

European countries have understood that a well-regulated private sector can contribute to the provision of healthcare without sacrificing universality.

The state’s role is to ensure universal coverage for its citizens, not to supply the service itself. Local entrepreneurs have talent and expertise enough to do that.

David Descôteaux is a Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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