In Brief: As the United States again debates the merits of publicly funded health care, AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley cautions not to repeat the mistakes of the the Canadian health care system. His remarks to an international conference on health reform in Washington, D.C. are highlighted in this blog posting.

Several leading European and Canadian health economists, physicians and scholars — in Washington recently for the Galen Institute’s conference, “Lessons from Abroad for Health Reform in the US” — met with analysts from the Heritage Foundation and other conservative think-tank leaders.

They wanted to explain why Americans should be concerned when officials push for government-controlled, universal health care coverage that includes innocuous-sounding but largely intrusive and prohibitive health measures.

“We were told single-payer health care would be a true liberation for Canada when they enacted it 40 years ago, and the opposite has become true,” says Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Canada.

Not only do Canadians face extraordinary wait times to get specialized treatments (the average wait time from getting a referral from a general practitioner to receiving a treatment was 17.3 weeks in 2008), but they also have limited access to new drugs, thanks in part to the country’s “comparative effectiveness” body known as the Common Drug Review, says Brett Skinner with the Fraser Institute.

In Switzerland, “compulsory health insurance has moved the objective from being access to health care and quality of care to largely cost containment measures,” says Dr. Alphonse Crespo, an orthopedic surgeon who also runs research for the Institut Constant de Rebecque in Switzerland.

Next door in France, government policies are undermining patients’ choice of care and the private sector’s involvement in health care delivery. “France is on its way to joining the nationalized health care system of the United Kingdom,” says Valentin Petkantchin with the Insitut economique Molinari.

British oncologist Dr. Karol Sikora says greater government control over the health care system is a bad idea for any industrialized country. “Americans may want some form of universality in health care, but entities like NICE [Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] are nothing more than government-inspired, political rationing tools,” says Dr. Sikora, who has seen his cancer patients receive newer, more effective drug treatments over others simply based on their where they live.

“Having seen firsthand over many years just how inhumane this system can be, it is remarkable that other countries would even consider it,” Dr. Sikora says in his latest paper presented at the Galen Institute’s conference.

But indeed, Americans could face similar problems in securing high-quality health care of their choice based on the ongoing efforts in Congress and the Obama administration to centralize health-care decisions making in Washington. The many well-documented experiences of patients in countries that are America’s allies and friends certainly attest to that.