Queue Jumping in Canada

An item from Marginal Revolution talks about a person in Canada, Bill Binfet, who needs a knee replacement and has offered to buy an earlier spot from someone ahead of him in the queue. The government of course says it is unethical for a doctor to do this, but Binfet doesn’t want the doctor to do it; he wants to buy the spot from the person who has it.

The Canadian health care system is a mess. There is single tier health care, and by law you cannot pay for private service, unless of course you are a politician or hockey player. So there are tremendously long waiting lines for things like MRIs. Not everyone has a family physician, and waiting times in emergency rooms cam run up to 9 hours. Many claim that health care is free as Canada has socialized medicine, but many things are not covered and must be paid out of pocket. And recently the province of Ontario instituted a health care premium of up to $900 annually, in addition to a Fair Share Health Levy paid along with provincial income taxes.

Even if you are able to pay for service, and wish to do so, you cannot. And it may indeed be unethical to let someone buy their position in the queue, but is it reasonable that a person’s treatment depends entirely on when they got in line? Is there any objective way to assess who needs treatment more?

A friend of mine is in the hospital awaiting cardiac bypass surgery, which he is getting quite fast I must point out. However, he is still in a waiting line, albeit short, and he must go to a hospital an hour from home to get the surgery. He just happened to go into hospital with chest pains. If someone has a massive heart attack today, they will be behind him in the queue. Is that reasonable?

It isn’t clear to me how to allocate these scarce resources, but until a way is found to do so, health care in Canada continues to deteriorate.