By PAT WATSON
There is a social bomb that is on its way to exploding here in Canada in the not too distant future, even as the Barack Obama administration has met the hard fought goal of enacting health care reform in the United States. One of Canada’s most sacrosanct institutions is heading into the challenge of the rising cost of universal health care in the face of a large aging population.
Health care spending claims more than 40 per cent of provincial budgets. Each province is responsible for its respective ministries of health but funding for health care comes through transfer payments from the federal government. Across the board, in 2009, when a total of $129 billion in public sector money went to health care, the federal government allocated 12 per cent of its budget to health care. In 2008 health care spending was $171.9 billion or $5,170 per person, at the time the highest in Canada.
Future spending is expected to grow to 50 per cent of provincial budgets. One projection is that in 25 years, health care will account for three-quarters of every dollar spent by any province.
In laying out the latest federal budget, concerned parties breathed a sigh of relief that the Harper government’s $280.5 billion budget did not include any cuts to health care spending. Health care is vital, and at same time the medical industry has a highly influential lobby ensuring that it continues to earn robust profits.
Also, it is no secret that a common practice of publicly funded health organizations is to find ways to spend unused funds in order to justify asking for increased funding year over year. This practice is also contributing to rising health care budgets.
With health care costs now rising faster than the rate of inflation, the recent Ontario throne speech by the provincial Liberal government referred to plans to contain costs with a “patient-based payment” system in which “money will follow the patient” as opposed to the usual practice of funding hospitals to the tune of billions with relatively few strings attached. The speech also mentioned legislation to make health care providers and executives “accountable for improving patient care”.
While we are all aware that the price of everything goes up, it is the increase in failing health that needs greater attention. What therefore must be done in consideration of the 62 per cent of seniors in six provinces who take five or more prescription drugs each day? Or the increasing number of Canadians with failed kidneys – an increase of 57 per cent between 1999 and 2008, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information? In Ontario, emergency-room visits by seniors have increased by 100,000 a year over the past five years, accounting for close to one million visits. This is at a time when hospitals are closing beds in order to save costs.
One of the key components to ensuring the health care system is to put more resources into illness prevention and better health maintenance. This means encouraging more medical students to become family doctors as well as improving the system for the certification of doctors coming here from other countries. Some five million Canadians do not have a family doctor and there are untold numbers who have not paid a visit to a medical professional in a decade.
Also, the old saying that ‘prevention is better than cure’ still rings true. We should all understand that a reasonable amount of physical activity, an active social life, emotional balance and healthful choices in diet are essential to maintaining good health and to avoiding over reliance on medical interventions. That is how each of us can contribute to maintaining a ‘healthy’ health care system rather than contributing to overburdening the one we currently have.
On a related note…
Something is terribly wrong when mothers of newborns are so hastily encouraged to feed the babies prepared formula instead of being supported and encouraged to breastfeed. Part of the problem is a culture that requires women to return to work outside the home after just six months. The World Health Organization has recommended breastfeeding for up to 30 months. Breastfeeding ensures that babies develop a healthy immune system. Perhaps the rapid increase in asthma and other chronic conditions are the result of the decrease in breastfeeding. We live in a culture that will gladly accept exposed human mammaries for profit or for porn, but is uncomfortable with a mother nursing her child.