Politics·Opinion

Stockwell Day: Time to face taboo of 'two-tier' health-care

A discussion about alternative funding for health care has been politically impossible - but now it's impossible to ignore, writes Stockwell Day.

Discussing alternative funding for health care has been politically impossible - but now it's impossible to ignore, writes Stockwell Day

Ever wonder why one of the truly life and death issues of public policy, namely alternative funding of health care, is avoided at all costs by almost all politicians?

Simple. It's their own political lives which they properly know are at risk if they dare raise the matter of alternative funding.   

Every elected person understands full well that she risks banishment or ostracization  by her party, her constituents and maybe even family members should she dare touch the Holy Grail of Canada's supposedly "free" health care model.  

Questioning this apparently infallible doctrine that weakly supports our fiscally failing health care system is a career-ending decision in the minds of even the bravest elected members.

There is a terrible irony here.

Never has there been more caution about raising this topic, and never has its raising been more needed.

The health funding Fear Factor is certainly nothing new.

Flashback to Jean Chretien's snap election call in 2000. Early in the campaign one of our Canadian Alliance MP's was misquoted to the extreme as suggesting we needed a "two tier" health care system.

The MP never suggested it, our policy manual did not endorse it, and the news releases we put out to push back the distortion completely denounced it. 

All to no avail. The Liberals assailed us (smartly, but falsely) daily, at every turn of the campaign. Any other messages we tried to push forward were buried amid the avalanche of cries of a "secret" agenda on health care.

During the 2000 Leaders Debate, Stockwell Day tried to put down charges he was out to introduce two-tier health care. Now, he says, it's a debate we must have. (CP PHOTO)
The din did not subside until the Leaders' Debate. I was able to snag a national headline-grabbing photo by holding up a card during the debate with the words "No Two Tier Health Care" firmly refuting the attack. 

That coast-to-coast visual helped, somewhat, to put the matter to rest. Proof of that was revealed in real-time polling conducted by Ipsos-Reid as the televised debate was in progress.

Results were presented on air by Ipsos-Reid immediately after the debate for the five topic areas selected by the debate organizers. One, obviously, was health care. 

The pollster explained that the majority of viewers had awarded me first place in 4 of the 5 debate segments, and second place (to the NDP) in the portion on health care.

Even though we managed to somewhat dissipate the effects of being accused of wanting to dismantle Canada's universal health care system, we had paid dearly for it.

Rising costs threaten provincial budgets

Part of that price continues to be paid today. A warning to those seeking office: even breathe about needing to change the system and you'll get scorched.

Well, another scorching is taking place. It is the burning up of an ever-growing portion of every province's budget by health care costs.

Let me say at this point that I believe we probably have the finest and most dedicated  health care practitioners of any in the world.

It is not the fault of the doctors, nurses and other professionals that costs continue to rise disproportionately.    It also is not all about the demographics of the aging population.

Even technology with all of its wondrous advances is not  responsible for the upward driving costs. Nor is technology alone the key factor that can keep costs manageable.

The key systemic and fatal flaw is the funding system itself.

By stubbornly refusing to allow the development of a modern system that allows those who can willingly afford it to buy services, while still providing properly  for the rest of us, we are dooming every provincial budget.

The day will soon arrive when politicians will have to say to citizens,"What other essential services are you prepared to go without due to the growing and voracious appetite of a health care system we cannot properly feed?"

Canadian health-care dollars heading south

Right now, thousands of Canadians, unwilling to bear the risks or pain of rationed health care services, are crossing the border with their hard-earned cash.

They are giving untold millions of dollars to U.S. doctors, U.S. nurses, U.S. hospitals and U.S. research facilities.

These Canadians would much prefer to see their money go to improving our system here at home.

It can absolutely be done while still providing free and universal health care to all other Canadians, and at improved levels of service.

However,if we continue to demonize every MLA or MP who wants to at least look at the options and possibilities then we condemn ourselves to higher costs, higher  deficits, higher taxes and lower levels of care.

Even the socialized systems of European nations allow for fee for service (translation: two tier) systems.

What's it going to be? More pain and rationing for all?

Or a way of allowing a fresh revenue stream to provide needed oxygen to a system already on life support?