Politicians should scrub up on health care
NationalPost.com – FullComment
Aug 24, 2011. Tasha Kheiriddin
The Canadian health-care system is in critical condition. Five million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor, one in 10 cannot afford their medications and the target for surgeries such as knee replacements stretches to a full year. That damning diagnosis was delivered Tuesday by Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, the outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association. In a speech to the CMA’s annual general council in St. John’s, Dr. Turnbull describes the situation as “unacceptable … this pillar of Canadian society is eroding.”
Dr. Turnbull is only telling Canadians what they already know. Who among us doesn’t have a personal anecdote of an endless emergency room wait, or the frustration at waiting months to see a specialist? Meanwhile, think-tanks churn out reports chronicling the decline of our system compared to that of other nations, where service is faster, cheaper, and more effective — while our provincial budgets swell with the ever-increasing cost of a broken system.
The day of Dr. Turnbull’s speech, the CMA also released an advisory report with a list of recommendations for change. New funding models top the list: “user fees, franchises and various insurance schemes are widely used elsewhere by governments across the political spectrum. These not only provide a portion of funding, they may help create the right incentives for a broader, more appropriate and more efficient system of supports.”
But instead of calling for government leadership, the report concludes that politicians cannot be expected to act because the situation has become “too toxic.” “Given entrenched beliefs, as well as the current fiscal challenges in Canada, the ability of governments to lead fundamental health-care reform may be seriously compromised.” The CMA implores its members, as well as citizens and other professionals, to work for change.
On this point, the CMA is dead wrong. It is the very toxicity of the problem that demands leadership from our elected officials. The public and the medical profession cannot allow politicians to abdicate their responsibility. Without fundamental political reforms, the system cannot be rehabilitated, no matter how many efforts made by well-meaning physicians and nurses. Legislative roadblocks to competition, the wellspring of efficiencies, must be removed — and the people with the power to do that are politicians.
Indeed, the entrenched beliefs the CMA refers to are the product of politics themselves, decades of rhetoric that have little to do with health, and everything to do with Canada’s post-war quest for a national identity. As thinkers such as George Grant lamented the Americanization of our nation, politicians such as Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau successively shaped Canada in the image of a supposedly kinder, gentler alternative. The egalitarian concept of universal public medicare became a crucial element to distinguish ourselves from our individualistic, bellicose neighbour to the south.
This reflexive anti-Americanism is, to put it mildly, outdated. But today, instead of looking further afield to European countries who deliver better care for less money, politicians and opinion leaders still shrink myopically from the American bogeyman. At the same time the United States is undergoing its own existential crisis over health-care reform — with many fearing that it will turn into, ironically, Canada.
We can no longer afford to limit our health-care options based on an outdated concept of “national identity.” Politicians cannot shirk their duty ion this task: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his majority, and change may be a-coming to several provincial legislatures, including that of Ontario. Will our leaders have the courage to act? Canadians should demand no less.
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