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How would you like to wait six months to see a dentist?

Montreal, March 31, 2015 – With jam-packed emergency rooms and long months spent waiting to see a specialist, it’s not surprising that only 35% of Canadians aged 55 and over are satisfied with our mostly public health care system, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund poll. Fortunately, there exists another health care system, an essentially private one that works very well.

In a Research Paper published today by the MEI, economist Yanick Labrie sketches a picture of four areas where the private sector responds promptly and effectively to the needs of Canadians: pharmacies, dentistry, eye care, and seniors’ housing and care.

Dental clinics in Canada are widely accessible and waiting times are minimal to nonexistent, yet 94% of expenditures are financed by private sources. In countries with more government financing, access to care is not necessarily better—quite the contrary. In Finland, wait times in 2012 amounted to over one month in 85% of public dental centres. In Australia, nearly 400,000 adults find themselves on waiting lists across the country for public dental care and must wait from two to five years in certain regions.

In pharmacies in Canada—most of which are open seven days a week and some even 24 hours a day—we never hear talk of waiting times or access problems. This is not the case in certain countries that wanted to integrate this economic sector into the public system. In Sweden, accessibility and opening hours were substantially reduced following such an experiment. For example, no pharmacies were open on Sundays, and many even closed down completely for the summer.

“We should not take for granted the speed and effectiveness of the services that we receive in the private sector. Indeed, certain groups in this country are calling for increased public funding in these areas. Judging from the experiences of other countries, patients would likely pay the price for such changes,” says Yanick Labrie.

Eye care businesses operate in a highly competitive environment, which leads to improvements in product quality, and limits price increases, for instance in the case of laser eye surgery. As for seniors’ housing and care, the private sector provides alternatives that are less expensive than the public sector, and better adapted to the varied needs and preferences of the population.

“The lesson is clear: These sectors function well because they operate in a market environment where businesses compete with each other and where consumers are free to choose. In contrast, in countries where these market mechanisms are less present, we see problems arising,” says Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President and CEO of the MEI. “Indeed, our public system could take inspiration from these principles, because what holds for dental and eye care also holds for hospital care.”

The Research Paper entitled “The Other Health Care System: Four Areas Where the Private Sector Answers Patients’ Needs” was prepared by Yanick Labrie, Economist at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Mariam Diaby, Communications Director, MEI / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell.: 514-668-3063 / Email: mdiaby@iedm.org

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