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Canadians now less confident in their health-care system than Americans are: survey

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Two out of five Canadians say they were unable to access essential health-care services in the last six months, according to a new Angus Reid report.

The study, which surveyed nearly 3,500 Canadians and Americans combined, also found that Canadian confidence in our health-care system is currently lower than American confidence in theirs, with Americans less likely to report issues accessing care.

This data comes amid increasing reports of emergency department closures, backlogs for surgeries, long wait times and hospitals bleeding staff as Canada's health-care system struggles to maintain itself. Canada's universal health-care system has long been a source of national pride, but with the pandemic exacerbating existing staffing issues, experts say our system's cracks have gone ignored for too long.

This new study scored Canadians' responses and sorted them into three categories that reflected their level of access to care as a whole — those who had comfortable access, those who had some challenges accessing care, and those with chronic difficulty accessing care.

Just 15 per cent of Canadians surveyed fit into the comfortable access tier, while 31 per cent reported experiencing challenges and 29 per cent experienced chronic difficulty, researchers found.

The remaining 26 per cent of Canadians surveyed had not required health-care access during the six month period the survey scrutinized.

When applied to Canada's broader population, this could mean that up to 18.7 million Canadians could be experiencing difficulties accessing health care.

The damage to Canada's health-care system is also underlined by the survey data from Americans, who are currently much less likely to report suffering issues trying to access health care, according to the study.

When asked about their confidence level regarding being able to get care for an emergency, only 37 per cent of Canadians were confident they could access urgent care in a timely fashion, compared to 70 per cent of Americans surveyed.

It's important to note that the surveys focused on access to care, not on clinical outcome, and doesn't provide a measure for the quality of care that patients received.

CANADIANS CONCERNED ABOUT ACCESSING CARE

The study is composed of data collected in two online surveys in August 2022 — one survey included 2,279 Canadians who are members of Angus Reid Forums, and the other included 1,209 Americans who are members of Angus Reid Forums USA. Angus Reid Forums is a public opinion research foundation operated online.

Specialist appointments or surgical procedures were the types of health care that Canadians had the most difficulty accessing — more than half of those who required this care had difficulty accessing it, and around five per cent reported it was impossible to receive the appointment or surgery they needed.

Diagnostic tests and non-emergency treatment were easier to access, but a high percentage still struggled, with 41 per cent of Canadians encountering difficulty accessing a test.

Younger people also have more barriers to accessing specialist appointments or obtaining a diagnostic test, the study found. Around 70 per cent of those who found it difficult or impossible to access a specialist appointment in the last six months were in the 18-to-34 age bracket.

The study also looked at the community impact beyond the individual.

Most Canadians know a friend or family member who has struggled with the health-care system recently — according to the data, nearly three out of four Canadians know at least one person who received inadequate medical care within the last six months.

Around 57 per cent of Canadians say their friends or loved ones have suffered long waits to get an appointment, and one third of Canadians surveyed reported that they knew someone who had a long wait for emergency care.

Half of Canadians said this inadequate care had serious health consequences for the loved one in question, the survey found.

Amid this turmoil, Canadian confidence in the health-care system appears to be plummeting, researchers found, with 61 per cent reporting that they were not confident they would be able to get timely access to aid in the event of an emergency.

The study noted that confidence is lowest in Atlantic Canada, where 27 per cent reported they weren't confident at all that emergency care would be timely, and 38 per cent reporting they were not that confident.

In contrast, the U.S. portion of the data found that the Americans surveyed were less likely to report difficulty accessing care and were more likely to be confident that they could access care in a timely fashion.

CANADA VS. U.S.

Canadians were almost three times more likely than Americans to say that a loved one couldn't get a diagnostic test, and were four times more likely to report that a loved one couldn't received surgery, the study reported. While 40 per cent of Americans surveyed found it “very easy” to access emergency care, just 13 per cent of Canadians said the same.

The comparison is striking because in the past, Canada has consistently outperformed the U.S. in rankings of health-care systems worldwide.

Even when Canada performed poorly compared to other high-income countries in a 2021 report by the Commonwealth Fund, it still scored significantly better than the U.S., whose private health-care system has long been criticized both internally and internationally for the financial burden it places on patients.

In this new study, researchers noted that although American health care is still largely a private, user-pay system which prioritizes the rich, recent efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden's administration have expanded health-care coverage, with the uninsured rate reaching an all-time low of eight per cent in the first quarter of 2022.

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