Province needs to find millions in health-care savings

TheStar.com – Ontario/healthzone.ca/health
October 6, 2010.   Theresa Boyle, HEALTH REPORTER

The head of the Ontario Hospital Association is challenging the province to take “courageous” and controversial steps to cut millions of dollars in waste out of the health-care system.

Tom Closson threw down the gauntlet in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada Wednesday, warning that the province needs to find millions in health-care savings if it intends balancing its budget, as planned, by 2017-18.

“We have to find ways to take money out of the system, so I think we need the leadership from the government,” he said.

The association has a history of asking the province for more money every year to help hospitals balance their budgets.

But Closson said because Ontario is facing continued “economic distress,” tough, even politically unpopular, decisions must be made when it comes to health-care funding, which now totals $46 billion annually and eats up more than 40 per cent of all provincial program spending.

“What we need now is courage, courage to both create a game plan and courage to act,” he said.

Closson said savings can be found without compromising quality.

“I believe that the quality of care can be improved even though we are in a lasting era of belt-tightening,” he said.

Offering an example of waste, Closson cited a 15-year-old study showing there is no clinical value to the practice of doing electrocardiograms and chest x-rays on patients prior to cataract surgery. But many Ontario hospitals and physicians have continued the practice because they received incentives to do so in the form of payments. It was only in July this year that the province ended the payments on the basis of the study.

Closson said he is hopeful similar savings can be found by the Ontario Health Quality Council, which was recently empowered to identify best practices and order them to be adopted province-wide.

He said the province has made courageous decisions in the past to cut health care costs and need to do so again. Offering examples, he cited the highly explosive move by the former Mike Harris government to close and merge hospitals through the Health Services Restructuring Commission in the 1990s.

He also cited drug reforms implemented by the province earlier this year in the face of strong opposition from pharmacies.

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