Lawsuit Claims Wait Times are Literally Killing Canada’s Public Healthcare Patients

The Canadian public healthcare system is notorious for its long wait times, and a new lawsuit aims to challenge this issue in court. Several Canadians are suing for the right to pay more to get the life-saving care they need — and get it fast.

The plaintiffs are suing the Canadian government, stating that the long wait times for medically necessary treatments have caused permanent physical damage or other health problems. Two are teenagers: Walid Waitkus, 16, who has a progressive spine deformity and was paralyzed after a 27-month wait for care, and Chris Chiavatti, 18, who suffered permanent damage after waiting for treatment for a knee injury. 

A third plaintiff, Mandy Martens, 37, had colon cancer, which spread as she waited for treatment. Two other plaintiffs in the case died before the case could get to trial.

Marni Soupcoff, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, is supportive of the case, defending it against critics who say that the plaintiffs are out to “destroy” Canada’s public healthcare. The plaintiffs, Soupcoff says, “are human beings who have been forced to pay with their own wellbeing and lives for an abstract government-imposed ideal that has long since ceased working in practice.” 

This isn’t the first time the long waiting lists in Canada’s public health have come under fire from irate citizens. In 2007, Shona Holmes filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming long wait times forced her to seek care in the U.S. to remove a Rathke’s cleft cyst from her pituitary gland, a benign growth that can cause visual problems; without the treatment Holmes sought at the Mayo Clinic, she would have had to wait at least six months for surgery in Canada. 

Holmes went on to campaign against healthcare reform in the U.S., citing the flaws in the Canadian system as proof of what Americans could expect should they adopt Canada’s healthcare model. As of 2009, Holmes’s lawsuit is still unresolved.

Long wait times for Canadian healthcare are responsible for much of the medical tourism industry in the U.S. Dr. Jim Norman, a Florida surgeon, claims he has seen the number of Canadian patients in his practice grow 85 percent in the past decade: from five Canadian patients in 2003 to 45 in 2013. 

Canadians don’t just rely on public healthcare; while employees of small businesses can get basic care from doctors and hospitals, as covered by National Medicare, they still need to consider other health insurance options for additional care. However, despite the additional coverage, they still have the same wait times as everyone else.