Well, Prime Minister, this is the biggie. Polls have repeatedly shown
that health care is a top-priority issue for Canadians. It is a huge line
in any budget, federal or provincial. For most provinces, health-care
spending makes up between 30 and 40 per cent of total government expenditures.
Canadians spent more than $121 billion on health care last year. Nearly
$85 billion of that was public money.
But here's the thing: polls also show that Canadians are unhappy with
the state of the health-care system. They say they are waiting too long
for treatment, and some can't even find a family doctor to begin with. Spending
on health increases by about seven per cent a year, but waiting times to
see specialists are getting longer.
CBC LINK: Canada's health care system
Polling firm Ekos reports it's not that Canadians think health care is
too expensive; they just don't think the money is being well spent. The
2002 Romanow report on health care called for more money, but also said
governments needed to rethink how the money was being spent. An earlier
report for Alberta, the Mazankowski report, came to much the same conclusion.
So what are your options? We're glad you asked.
- Work with what already exists. Add more money, and consider changes to the
delivery of health care. One possible change that has been tried in Ontario
is encouraging family doctors to form networks to provide 24-hour care to patients,
so they won't feel the need to doctor-shop or visit emergency rooms.
- A two-tier system. This would mean allowing patients to pay for faster service,
or to go to private clinics for basic health care. Alberta has suggested it
would like to try some form of private care.
- A bit of both. Keep the current system, but de-list certain services, or
charge a fee that would discourage people from visiting the doctor unless absolutely
(Please note, Prime Minister, these are not necessarily exhaustive. If you come up with
a plan of your own, feel free to give it a try.)
But none of this is to suggest that more money wouldn't help. The Romanow report
said the federal government was picking up the tab for 16 per cent of health-care
spending. The report recommended Ottawa's share should be 25 per cent. It also
suggested an immediate cash infusion.
As I'm sure you're aware, the new health council will monitor the state of health
care in Canada, but your government isn't required to act on its recommendations.
Also, Alberta and Quebec have
opted out of the council, and
Alberta's premier has at times dropped hints about 'opting out' of the Canada
It might take some strong medicine, but a prime minister with a new mandate
should feel more than equal to administering it.