Color & Control:

Time to cure what ails 

By Maria Lily Shaw

The need to reform our health-care system has long been a hot topic of debate. After all, Canada is an easy target: It has one of the highest price tags among countries with universal health systems but its performance has lagged for years.

The effect of Canada’s health-care system’s poor performance is bad enough, but now its lack of capacity is interfering with both our daily lives and well-being. So how do we fix the problem? 

On one side of the debate, there are those who believe throwing more money at it would be a miraculous cure. Indeed, several provincial premiers seem to be of this opinion with their pleas to the federal government for substantially increased health transfer dollars. However, this has been tried before with outcomes that speak for themselves. Case and point: with an average seven per cent increase since 1975 the provinces still haven’t been able to deliver better results for patients.  

Little effect noticed
This failure to thrive hasn’t gone unnoticed with 55 per cent of Canadians believing that the additional amount of money injected into healthcare over the past decade has either had no effect and the care is actually getting worse. At this point, it seems spending even more taxpayer dollars would simply be placing our health systems on an artificial respirator.

On the flip side, there are those who want to give our country’s health systems room to breathe by expanding the role of entrepreneurs in the delivery of care. Such a structural reform could involve 1. Encouraging provinces to form more partnerships between public and private institutions, or 2. Letting entrepreneurs run publicly funded clinics and hospitals.

Adopting a greater mix of public and private healthcare would not, as some fear, equate to the Americanization of our health care. Rather, allowing and even fostering an entrepreneurial approach when it comes to picking up the slack doesn’t endanger the universality of our health-care systems.

A good example
As many European countries know well, such a change would actually increase
1. The accessibility of services families already pay for through their taxes and
2. Offer greater choice within the public system.
3. As an added bonus, expanding the role of the private sector would also enable governments to better use of the billions of dollars spent on healthcare (currently a whopping 33 per cent of federal and provincial budgets) and drive greater innovation. 

Health reform in Canada has been talked about enough. It’s time to take action and catch up to the other universal health systems in the world that have already embraced the role of entrepreneurs in their delivery of care. 

Taking this bold step will, require political courage and co-operation from all levels of governance, including unions, professional orders, and colleges. As we struggle with the umpteenth wave of COVID-19, lets hope our pandemic learnings will be the spur that finally gets us to move forward with this conversation. Anything less would be irresponsible.

Maria Lily Shaw is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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