Socialized medicine is good for B.C. business

VancouverSun.com – business/smart-shift/fp
May 4, 2011.    By Adrian Dix, Vancouver Sun

British Columbia’s economic assets are often seen in terms of geography -its natural resources, proximity to markets in Asia and extraordinary natural beauty.

But according to international research, B.C. is a better choice for enterprise than Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other commercial centres, in part because of its public health care system. Vancouver and Prince George occupy the top spots in KPMG’s biannual Competitive Alternatives Survey, which ranks cities according to the cost advantage they provide companies. Our “competitive advantage” is less now than a decade ago, but still significant.

Vancouver and Prince George place No. 1 and 2 for the Pacific region, while Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco rank 8 to 11. KPMG arrived at these rankings in part because public non-profit health care is a great deal for the private sector, as employers save considerably by not having to pay for most medical benefits.

Our public health care system thus is a key asset B.C. should leverage to diversify its economic base.

For example, knowledge-based industries face higher labour costs because of the scientific and technical expertise of their workforce. Companies in fields like biomedical research and digital media need to provide health care insurance to recruit and retain skilled labour.

A provincial strategy targeting industries should underscore that in B.C. firms save on these costs. Sector-specific studies reiterate this -an analysis by IBM-PLI, a global consultancy firm, concluded that cities like Vancouver offer digital media firms a significant advantage thanks to the public health insurance plan.

Yet in the past decade, it has been B.C.’s chief rivals such as Ontario that have capitalized on medicare. Ontario’s economic development agency highlights how the province’s health care system reduces operating costs. According to Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and a Nobel Prizewinning economist, Toyota’s decision to select Ontario over other North American locations was based in large part because of public health care.

In contrast, the B.C government has been diminishing our province’s competitive advantage by undermining public health care. It has adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on private clinics illegally charging patients to earn a profit, alleged violations of the Medicare Protection Act that increase the overall cost of health care in B.C. It has delisted services and seen private health care costs increase dramatically as compared to increase in public health care costs.

Even with its current challenges, “socialized medicine” proves to be far more cost-efficient and reliable and provides better quality care than private, for-profit health care.

Arnold Reiman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, recently wrote that “because of its overhead, as well as the expense of billing and collecting it imposes on doctors and hospitals, the investorowned for-profit insurance industry probably adds at least $150 [billion to] $200 billion to the annual cost of providing health coverage to the American population.”

But the focus and energy required to establish the long-term care beds and network of specialized, efficient nonprofit surgical clinics that would reduce and stabilize wait times, to set up nurse practitioner clinics to lower hospitalization rates and expand the Therapeutic Initiative’s independent assessment of drug treatments to protect patients and taxpayers has been diverted by the government’s questioning of a singlepayer health system. Currently, the new premier is proposing to cut $518 million from public health care this fiscal year alone.

Public health care remains a great deal for B.C. patients and businesses. It combines, as health economist Steven Lewis has said, “social justice with administrative efficiency.”

Adrian Dix is the leader of the B.C New Democratic Party and MLA for Vancouver Kingsway.

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