Nova Scotia

Liberal MLA steps back from comments on health-care costs

A Liberal MLA apologized Monday for comments he made Sunday online about health care and the cost of treating people with chronic illness.

Hugh MacKay wrote of 'immense wasted costs' related to lifestyle-linked illnesses

Liberal MLA Hugh MacKay apologized Monday for comments he made online the day before about the cost of treating illnesses sometimes related to lifestyle choices. (CBC)

A Liberal MLA apologized Monday for comments he made about health care and the cost of treating people with chronic illness.

Chester-St. Margaret's MLA Hugh MacKay took to social media Sunday to say chronic diseases are often linked to lifestyle choices, such as smoking, poor diet and drinking too much.

He said the cost of treating things such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer is "a source of great frustration for our health-care professionals and for your government."

He said that before asking why there isn't more money for education, roads and community services "think about the immense wasted costs in treating the results of our lifestyle choices," he wrote in the now-deleted post.

"Tough words for a tough problem, but I was elected to tell it like it is."

Dr. Trevor Arnason is the regional medical officer of health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone. (CBC)

The comments drew the ire of opposition politicians who called them insensitive and oversimplified.

"Just to go out and say that the problems we have in the health-care system, the education system and the highway system is because we're wasting money on health care — if you have a sick parent [or] child, to tell you that, that you're wasting money to treat your father or your son or your daughter, to me that's a slap in the face," PC health critic Eddie Orrell said in an interview.

The NDP also released a statement criticizing the comments as "shameful" and "high-handed lectures."

While Nova Scotia does indeed have high rates of chronic illness and cancer, the regional medical officer of health for the provincial health authority's central zone said years of research shows simply reminding people of the consequences of negative behaviour and unhealthy choices isn't very effective at changing behaviour.

Liberal MLA Hugh MacKay made this social media post on Sunday. It's since been deleted. (Facebook)

"That's likely because there's other factors at play that make it difficult for individuals to make a healthy choice," said Dr. Trevor Arnason.

"If an individual is struggling to make ends meet, struggling to pay bills, pay rent, pay for child care, it may be very difficult for them to prepare healthy foods or go to restaurants that have healthy foods."

Arnason said prevention is something people should be discussing and it's a valuable aspect to the health-care system because of what it means for people's long-term outlooks and the ability to save money for the system.

But broad policies focused on the social determinants of health, including community services, education and employment, are likely to make some of the biggest changes to the system, he said.

MacKay wasn't doing interviews a day after his "tough words," instead taking to social media again, this time to offer an apology and interact with several constituents.

"I failed to properly address the social determinants of health," he wrote. "Health care is a complex issue that is multifaceted and my post did not reflect this."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca