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Subject: qotd: OECD report on waiting times
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2013 12:18:52 -0800
From: Don McCanne <email@example.com>
To: Quote-of-the-Day <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD)
OECD Health Policy Studies
Waiting Times in the Health Sector
By Luigi Siciliani, Michael Borowitz and Valerie Moran
The book first provides a framework to understand the role of waiting
times in health systems in Chapter 1. It then discusses variation and
best practice in defining and measuring waiting times across OECD
countries in Chapter 2. The book summarises and discusses the
effectiveness of the most common policies to address long waiting times
in 13 OECD countries in Chapter 3. Chapters 4-16 provide detailed
country case studies respectively in Australia, Canada, Denmark,
Finland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal,
Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. They describe current policy
developments and assess the effectiveness of policies in the last ten years.
Table 3.1 - (Policies and their potential effect on waiting times)
1. Increased production in the public sector by funding extra activity -
2. Contracting with private sector - WEAK
3. Sending patients abroad - WEAK
4. Increased productivity by introducing activity-based financing (DRGs)
5. Increased choice of providers - MEDIUM
6. Improved management of waiting lists - MEDIUM
1. Explicit guidelines to prioritise patients - MEDIUM
2. Subsidise private insurance - WEAK
1. Waiting-time guarantees - WEAK
2. With sanctions - STRONG
3. With choice and competition - STRONG
Chapter 5 - Canada
This chapter outlines the main characteristics of the Canadian health
care delivery system, traces the development of unacceptably long
patient waiting times for care and examines public concern about the
viability of Canadian Medicare. While individual jurisdictions addressed
the problem of waiting times with limited success, federal provincial
and territorial leaders collaborated in the development of a
pan-Canadian approach to reduce waiting times in the context of the 2004
10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care. Reductions in waiting times are
presented as are the results of statutory parliamentary reviews of progress.
In response to their 2004 commitment and given the funding to support
it, Canadian jurisdictions have delivered measurable improvement in
patient waiting times in the priority clinical areas. There has been
improvement in the infrastructure required to collect data and to
compare and report on performance. This improvement, across the country,
would not have been possible without the federal, provincial and
territorial collaboration and commitment set out in the 10-Year Plan to
Strengthen Health Care. Nor could it have been documented without
similar collaboration on data, definitions and reporting methodologies.
The accomplishments of the past eight years were necessary and have been
beneficial but not sufficient according to the most recent Parliamentary
Review. It calls for investment in dealing with the root causes of
waiting and investment in better management practices along the
continuum of care.
The full 328 page report can be read online at this link:
Comment: A well designed single payer national health program uses
equitable public financing to ensure that health care is universal,
administratively efficient, and reasonably comprehensive. The opponents
of single payer cannot deny these well documented benefits, so they
usually resort to the claim that single payer systems cause rationing.
Does this allegation have any basis in fact?
The term "rationing" traditionally has referred to the equitable
allocation of a commodity that is in short supply. In health care, the
term is more limited. In OECD nations any person experiencing a medical
emergency receives essential care. There is no rationing of emergency
On the other hand, in many but not all nations a backlog in the
scheduling of elective services may develop. Theoretically, everyone
would still receive appropriate care, but they might have to wait for
it. Rather than labeling this phenomenon "rationing," we should call it
what it is - "waiting times" or "queues."
This new OECD report is important because it demonstrates that, with
good government stewardship, queues can be reduced to acceptable levels.
(Totally eliminating queues by providing instant access to all services,
no matter how specialized, is not practical nor desirable.)
The United States was not included in this report. Queues are not as
much of a problem for individuals who are well insured, though some
excessive delays do occur. Rather, some experts claim that we do
"ration" care for those without the ability to pay for that care, with
the exception of emergency services provided in an Emergency Department.
Yet "ration" may not be the appropriate term since these individuals do
not receive an equitable allocation of a limited resource; they are
denied care in a system to which others are granted access.
Let's suppose that we enacted a single payer national health program in
the United States. It is true that if we later elected leaders who were
opposed to government programs, their inattentiveness to needs could
result in the development of excessive queues. That is why it is
important to understand what does and what does not work.
In the list in Table 3.1 (above), you can see that measures that are not
particularly effective are those such as sending patients abroad,
contracting public patients with the private sector, or subsidizing
private insurance plans (like ACA does).
Moderately effective measures include increasing choice of providers
(not locking patients into networks), using activity-based financing
(DRGs), and improved queue management, with better systems of
The strongest measures, according to this report, include establishing
waiting time guarantees with sanctions for failing to comply (sanctions
combat sloth), and providing more choice and competition. Here choice
refers to choice of health care professionals and institutions, selected
based on competition on perceived quality and service. Another important
measure that was left off of this list is fine-tuning system capacity.
Since Canada's single payer system is the closest to the PNHP model of
reform, it is important to understand what is happening there. We still
hear that "single payer would cause rationing like they have in Canada."
But, with federal and provincial collaboration, they have made
considerable progress in reducing their queues, and are continuing with
efforts toward further improvement.
All we would need to avoid "rationing" under a single payer system is
responsible public stewardship. If the people in charge insist that we
can't have single payer because of rationing, then we, in turn, need to
insist that they be discharged as our public stewards. There are plenty
of well qualified individuals who do care about the health of our people.