Health Costs Not Boomer’s Fault – Bill McQuarrie

Column PicBill McQuarrie

January 20, 2016

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott made it clear that her upcoming discussions with the provinces will be focused on health care  “system” reform.

She added, “We’ve seen in the past that injecting more money into the system without a commitment to drive system change is not necessarily the most successful approach.”

This couldn’t come at a better time considering Canada ranks #10 out of the top 11 industrialized countries.  That’s right, the only country we are better than as far as delivery of health services go, is the USA.  Not exactly something to be proud of given the state of America’s health care system.

When it comes to health care cost per capita rankings, we come in at $4522.  New Zealand at $3182 is the best, followed by the UK at $3405 and Australia at $3800 with the US at the bottom of the pile at $8508.  We are paying about $1300 more per capita than New Zealand in order to be pretty much the worst when it comes to looking after the health of our own citizens.  Am I the only one who fails to see how wrong that is or to be embarrassed by those results ?

For access of service we are ranked 11th, the worst when it comes to timeliness of care.  Safe care and efficiency has Canada second worst at #10 on both counts.  Those numbers suggesting that it takes longer than it should to access the health system and when you do, expect inefficiencies and a less than safe environment.  Again, am I the only one to see the failed logic of those results?  Explained at a more personal everyday level, it confirms that it takes months to see a specialist, followed by months to get testing, followed by months to receive treatment.  Treatment delayed that long could result in symptom changes that result in the need to revise treatment options and so the cycle continues.

Back in 1974, Canada was looked to as a world leader in the area of public health, including disease prevention and health promotion.  In the 1990’s, Canada consistently ranked number 5 when compared to other countries..  So what happened?  According to the Conference Board of Canada, part of the problem is, “Management systems that don’t focus enough on the quality of health care”.  So Minister Philpott seems to have it right when she speaks of system reforms.  We are spending too much time and resources managing and creating paperwork instead of delivering health care.  We have built what appears to be an amazingly complex,  non-medical bureaucracy that seems more intent on hampering the delivery of services then on serving the best interests of society.  Appointments to health authority boards appear to be more about political party loyalty and patronage than about ability and health services knowledge. We need change and a different kind of accountability.  As Minister Philpott said, “…I think we have a responsibility to make sure that people can see that we reach our targets and we see the kind of change that people expect.”

After everything has been said and ideas evaluated, politicians like to justify the current state of affairs and scare us about an even costlier future by blaming our rapidly aging population.  Yet countries with older population than ours, like Japan and Sweden do not have more expensive or less efficient health care systems.  Japan boasts the highest life expectancy in the world and the lowest mortality rates due to cancer, circulatory diseases and diabetes.  Sweden with one of the oldest populations in the world credits it success to an integrated approach that tailors home care, health care, and fitness activities to the needs of their older citizens.  So when the next politician plays the ageing population excuse card, challenge him or her to backup those claims while explaining the efforts and results shown by Japan and Sweden.  

So why are other countries delivering faster and better health services at a lower costs while not blaming the Baby Boomers for all their health care budget problems? I don’t know the answer but I’m wondering if I did a Freedom of Information request if I’d find that ministry delegation after ministry delegation has spent thousands of dollars visiting these countries and seen exactly what they are doing to be as successful as they are.  Which begs the question, why aren’t we doing more of what they’re doing?  I believe studies and reports have replaced action and are creating an inability to make decisions and a bureaucratic inertia that is slowly crippling our health care system.  I’d also like to know how much has been spent to observe and learn but neglect to implement and why are MSP premiums going up when they could be going down?

To be fair and provide some balance…Within Canada, BC’s health care performance ranks number 2 amongst all other provinces and territories.  Now before Minister Lake gets too excited, the Conference Board of Canada attributes much of that success to the healthy life-style choices made by BC’ers as opposed to one amazingly efficient health carel system…Sorry Minister Lake but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Fortunately the solutions aren’t that difficult to find.  In fact progressive and proactive governments have already been there done that, so you don’t have to reinvent the health care wheel to implement them.  Nor do you have to hit up the taxpayer for more money.

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