Queue Jumping in Canada

by on September 21, 2004 at 7:30 am in Economics, Medicine | Permalink

The Canadian health care system is falling apart. Bill Binfet needs both knees replaced. He waited 4 months to get an appointment with a specialist who then put him 290th on a waiting list. It’s been a year and still no surgery despite the fact that his arthritis is now so bad he has bone grinding on bone.

In desperation, Binfet has placed an ad in the local paper offering to buy someone else’s place on the waiting list. The provincial health care minister tut-tuts and says “it would be unethical for a doctor to trade places on a surgical wait list for an exchange of money.”

But as Colby Cosh points out that’s not what Binfet proposes:

…the established bioethics of medicare – whether you approve of them in general, or not – forbid us from allowing patients to queue-jump using inducements to physicians. There is a theoretical hazard, the story goes, that too much of that sort of thing would cause the best doctors to abandon public-funded practice altogether. Fair enough. But Binfet’s offer creates no such danger. He proposes a zero-sum, wholly voluntary exchange between patients for access to the rationed, public, monopoly service. Where’s the ethical problem?

I agree, adding only that what Binfet proposes is positive sum not zero-sum! Binfet will be better off, the recipient of the cash will be better off and no one will be worse off. Contrary to the assertions of economist’s, however, even Pareto optimal policies are sometimes opposed. Try it out on your students.

Thanks to Eric Crampton for the pointer.

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