Posted on July 5, 2007

Waiting Times for Care? Try Looking at the U.S.


Embargoed for Release
July 5, 2007

PNHP - Quentin Young, 312-782-6006.
CNA/NNOC - Charles Idelson, 510-273-2246

Nurses, Doctors Say It’s Time to Debunk the Myths
Even Aetna Admits U.S. System ‘Is Not Timely’

Waiting times in U.S. hospitals and clinics are becoming so lengthy that even one of the nation’s biggest insurers, Aetna, has admitted to its investors that the U.S. healthcare system is “not timely” and patients diagnosed with cancer wait “over a month” for needed medical care, said two leading organizations of doctors and nurses today.

Lost in the recent flurry of attacks on Canada and other nations with publicly funded healthcare systems, spurred by the popularity of Michael Moore’s “SiCKO,” is the reality of the huge hurdles faced by many American patients, said the Physicians for a National Health Program and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

“As the cost and service failures of the U.S. health system become unbearable, those who profit from the system - the private health insurance giants and big drug companies - are bringing out the propaganda attacks on the experience in the many countries which have chosen a public insurance plan. As always, half truths and lies are the scare tactics of these profiteers,” said Quentin Young, MD national coordinator of PNHP.

“There’s been a lot of clamor lately about delays in care in some other countries. But if you want to see some really unsightly waiting times, look at U.S. medical facilities,” said Deborah Burger, RN, president of the 75,000-member CNA/NNOC.

While the problem has been largely overlooked by the major media, it was quietly exposed by the chief medical officer of Aetna, Inc. late in Aetna’s Investor Conference 2007 in March.

In his talk, Troy Brennan conceded that “the (U.S.) healthcare system is not timely.” He cited “recent statistics from the Institution of Healthcare Improvement‚Ķ that people are waiting an average of about 70 days to try to see a provider. And in many circumstances people initially diagnosed with cancer are waiting over a month, which is intolerable,” Brennan said.

Brennan also recalled that he had formerly spent much of his time as an administrator and head of a physicians’ organization trying “to find appointments for people with doctors.”

While Brennan’s comments went unreported by the media, his data matches several studies and a report in a June 22 Business Week article which opened by citing the case of a New York woman who had to fight for a timely second exam following suspicious results from a first mammogram and then still had to wait a full month.

The article also noted a University of California San Francisco research report last year that documented average waits of 38.2 days to get an appointment with a dermatologist to examine a possibly cancerous mole.

A Commonwealth Fund study of six highly industrialized countries, the U.S., and five nations with national health systems, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, found waiting times were worse in the U.S. than in all the other countries except Canada.

And, most of the Canadian data so widely reported by the U.S. media is out of date, and misleading, according to PNHP and CNA/NNOC.

In Canada, there are no waits for emergency surgeries, and the median time for non-emergency elective surgery has been dropping as a result of public pressure and increased funding so that it is now equal to or better than the U.S. in most areas, the organizations say.

Statistics Canada’s latest figures show that median wait times for elective surgery in Canada is now three weeks.

“There are significant differences between the U.S. and Canada, too,” said Burger. “In Canada, no one is denied care because of cost, because their treatment or test was not ‘pre-approved’ or because they have a pre-existing condition.”

“Furthermore, when a service problem emerges in Canada, prompt analysis and resource deployment is mobilized to resolve the problem,” noted PNHP’s Young. “In the U.S., the situation only worsens each year, hence we are presently in an enormous crisis. That’s why we a need a single payer system, such as HR 676 which is now before Congress, that can respond to new demands.”

Furthermore, U.S. statistics fail to account for the even longer waits for the nation’s 44 million uninsured and tens of millions of insured Americans who put off needed medical care due to their high co-pays or deductibles, CNA/NNOC and PNHP noted.

Canada also surpasses the U.S. in a broad array of health barometers, including life expectancy, infant mortality rates, adult mortality rates, deaths due to HIV/AIDS, mortality rates for cardiovascular diseases, and years of life lost to injuries and communicable diseases, according to data from the World Health Organization and the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development.

“As nurses, we never worry about costs, billing, whether a procedure will be covered or anything like that. I never have to worry about whether one of my patients will get the treatment or care they need,” wrote Bev Dick, RN, vice president of the United Nurses of Alberta wrote in a Portsmouth (NH) Herald commentary July 1. “That’s the reason nurses are so supportive of our public system. And we have fought to protect it.”