By Bradley Bouzane
August 5, 2011
The Canadian health-care system may be plagued by countless stories of lengthy wait times and crowded emergency rooms, but a new study shows the amount of time and money spent on administrative duties is a fraction of that required by the U.S. system.
The study from the University of Toronto and New York's Cornell University says U.S. doctors pay an average of nearly $83,000 each for administrative costs associated with insurance documents. In Canada, for doctors based in Ontario that cost is significantly less at just over $22,200.
In addition, nurses, medical assistants and other hospital staff dedicate nearly 21 hours per week to filing insurance papers and other duties required to push insurance claims through. For the same duties in Ontario, just 2.5 hours are spent each week.
The findings of the study, published in the August edition of the journal Health Affairs, show that the "single payer" health-insurance system in Canada is largely responsible for the difference between countries.
It said the need for many U.S. patients to carry coverage from multiple insurance providers leads to the more demanding time commitments to file the appropriate documents.
Dr. Dante Morra, the study's lead author, said the time savings felt in Canada go back to help the people who need it most.
"When we look at health care in Canada . . . there's a lot of areas for improvement, but at the end of the day, sometimes we have to sit back and realize there is good access to care for Canadians," said Morra, a Toronto doctor.
"There are a lot of benefits to the way we have structured our system and one of those benefits is this almost non-existent cost associated with dealing with payment. That time is directly invested into caring for patients."
The study, which surveyed physicians on how much time was spent by themselves and other staff on filing insurance documents, said that if U.S. doctors were able to reel in the administrative costs to a level on par with those polled in Ontario, it would result in an annual savings of more than $27 billion for the American health-care system.
Morra said the high financial and time costs can often deter U.S. doctors from working in some medical environments. He noted, however, that the current political climate in the U.S. will likely not allow for a significant overhaul to allow for a streamlining of paperwork to allow doctors more time doing what they do best.
"As physicians, we know how to submit the claims . . . it's simple . . . but it's something we in Canada don't have to worry about," he said.
"A lot of people (in the U.S.) actually choose not to do primary care and office-based work because the hassle factor is so high it's unbearable, and they feel they're spending very little time with their patients.
"This is a benefit of the way we've organized health care in Canada and it's one of the reasons why health care is cheaper here and we get better results because we don't have to deal with these multiple health plans."