Tackling health costs takes courage

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Sat Oct 09 2010

The following is excerpted from a speech delivered in Toronto this week by Tom Closson, president of the Ontario Hospital Association:

I believe that the quality of (health) care can be improved even though we are now in a lasting era of belt-tightening.

So how do we do this?

Well, the good news is that studies, reports, symposia and examples from this province and around the world have already given us the answer to that question. We also have the talent and skilled professionals to make it happen.

What we all need now is courage — courage to both create a game plan and the courage to act. . . .

Given its importance to us today, it is hard to believe that a publicly funded health-care system did not always exist in Ontario, or that myriad groups and individuals actively opposed its creation during the 1960s.

In fact, our health-care system only exists because our political leaders had the courage to recognize that the status quo could not be allowed to stand, and acted accordingly.

Similarly, in the 1990s, when it became clear that amazing new technology and drugs had forever moved us away from invasive surgery and other factors affecting long stays in hospital, the government of the day had the courage to create the Health Services Restructuring Commission.

And although some of the ensuing decisions provoked howls of outrage, the commission and the government of the day made the first, critical steps toward right-sizing our health-care system, away from an inefficient, overreliance on hospital beds toward an expansion of other parts of the system. . . .

The current government has also shown courage in their health system reform efforts. . . .

Until recently, Ontarians were paying between 25 and 75 per cent more for generic pharmaceuticals than patients in many other countries. Something needed to be done to lower the costs, stop abuse of the system, and support better access to pharmacy services.

The centrepiece of the government’s proposed reform — to end the money paid to pharmacies by generic drug manufacturers in exchange for stocking their products — set them on a direct course for conflict with big chain pharmacies and a variety of interest groups.

And, of course, above-the-fold newspaper headlines and paid advertising by pharmacy lobbyists provided a daily drumbeat to the struggle.

This obviously wasn’t an easy decision for the government to make. . . . By having the courage to make this decision, and to stand fast by it even in the face of intense interest group opposition, the government has helped to ensure that this province is getting maximum value for money from its drug system.

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