Suspend health act: think-tank

NationalPost.com – FP/News
Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010.    Neil Haesler and Rebecca Lindell, Postmedia News

Suspending enforcement of the Canada Health Act to allow provinces to experiment with health insurance policies could result in new funding measures, according to a report by the Fraser Institute.

According to the think-tank’s report released on Wednesday, suspending enforcement of the act for a five-year trial would allow provinces to experiment with new policies such as patient cost-sharing, private competition and private medical insurance.

“A temporary suspension of federal enforcement of the Canada Health Act would give provinces the opportunity to experiment with cost-sharing, a greater role for private financing, competition, and consumer choice here in Canada. This in turn, would ultimately lead to innovation and improved access to care for all Canadians, just as it has for other countries in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development],” the report says.

“Any chance of meaningful reform in Canadian health insurance is effectively hobbled by the outdated Canada Health Act, which forbids many of the successful policies used in other countries,” said Mark Rovere, the Fraser Institute’s associate director of health policy research and co-author of the report, Value for Money from Health Insurance Systems in Canada and the OECD.

Mr. Rovere said that the majority of countries within the OECD experiment with new policies on an ongoing basis.

“By taking a temporary time out on enforcing the act, provincial governments would have the option to experiment with new policies without fear of financial penalties. The trial period would allow us to test different options to improve the delivery and accessibility of health care for ordinary Canadians by emulating the policies used in other countries,” Mr. Rovere said.

The report says many countries within the OECD have health-insurance systems that include variations of three policies that are either limited or outlawed under the Canada Health Act:

-Some form of consumer/patient cost-sharing for the use of publicly funded hospital care, general practitioner care, and/or specialist care.

-Medical care is financed through some form of social insurance where individuals and employers make direct and significant contributions to premiums.

-Private for-profit hospitals are permitted to bill public insurers for services.

But Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s office said it would not suspend the act.

“The Canada Health Act is the law of the land. We expect the provinces and territories to abide by the act. We have increased transfers to provinces and territories by 6% per year so that they continue to meet the health-care needs of their residents,” read the statement.

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, president of the Canadian Medical Association, called the idea “a step backwards for Canadians and their health care.

“The risk is that you will end up with a series of different systems across Canada as patients move across this country, as doctors move across this country, and as illnesses, frankly, move across this country, it’s going to be more and more difficult to look at a national perspective and national standards,” he said.

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