New federal health minister has opportunity to serve patients—not the system
As Dr. Jane Philpott (pictured above) steps into her new role as Minister of Health, she has a unique opportunity to break away from the status-quo and usher Canada toward a new direction that is focused on patients rather than the “Medicare System.” As the lessons of the past two decades have shown, the preservation of the latter is not necessarily in the best interests of the former.
While spending has cooled-off a bit recently, years of adhering to the status-quo and simply pumping money into the system has done little to address the fundamental problems with our health-care system.
We spend a lot, but don’t have enough doctors or diagnostic imaging machines (like MRI scanners); we don’t use our resources (like operating rooms, and acute-care beds) efficiently; we consistently rank dead last on most measures of wait times in comparison with other countries with universal health care; and our stubborn refusal to allow patients to receive private care in Canada when the public system fails them is likely one of the reasons why thousands of Canadians have sought treatment outside the borders of their own country.
Basically, we have to ration care because government retains a monopoly over the funding and delivery of health-care services.
And it will get worse. As the baby boomers grow older, and the expectation of prolonged lifespans spent in good health increase, so will demand (albeit, slowly). At the same time, as provinces recognize that they are spending approximately 40 per cent of their budgets on health care, they will face the tough decision of either crowding out other important social programs, taxing their populations at ever higher rates, or cutting back on services and watching wait times balloon.
The key is in allowing provinces to do what they think is best for their residents without having to worry about the federal government wielding the Canadian Health Act (CHA) to financially penalize them for doing so. This doesn’t require the CHA to be repealed, rather it simply requires tweaking it to allow a private health-care system to work in tandem with the public health-care system—filling in the cracks, to better serve patients.
Prime Minister Trudeau, who is from Quebec, and memorably cited a Supreme Court decision during his first leader’s debate, should also remember another landmark decision made in the province. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the effective ban on private health insurance violates the Quebec Charter (specifically the right to life, and to personal security, inviolability and freedom).
The prime minister, and his new health minister, Dr. Philpott, should consider the underlying principle of that judgement and break the shackles that force provinces to continue to preserve the “Medicare System” at the cost of timely, quality, health care for patients.
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