Taking our pulse on health care

NationalPost.com – Opinions
Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This week the Canadian Medical Association released the outcome of a national Ipsos Reid opinion poll on health-care. The results are striking.

According to the poll, 44% of Canadians surveyed this year strongly agree that “health-care costs will rise sharply, thereby increasing the demand for public funds.” About the same percentage of respondents (45%) held this view in 2000, as well. However, over the past decade, the number of respondents who strongly agree that “The demand for health care will increase, but we will be able to contain costs by operating the health-care system more efficiently” fell by half, from 29% to 14%.

This year’s survey further found that 50% of respondents agree that the best way to slow down growing costs is to find efficiencies in the health system, but only 32% are confident the government will succeed in doing so. Fifty-nine percent completely or somewhat agree that due to the rising cost of universal healthcare, governments won’t be able to afford the current health-care system while continuing to provide services like education, transportation and support for the unemployed.

Forty-six percent of the respondents think that increases in health-care spending should be funded by patients paying for part of of their care. Only 32% would increase taxes to fund such increases, while 22% would cut other spending to do so. A patient-payer option was preferred by a 2-to-1 margin over raising taxes; the options presented to respondents were a government-administered Canada Pension Plan-type health fund and a RRSP-type health fund. Put these results together and what do you get? Canadians are concerned about spiralling healthcare costs; they don’t believe the government can contain them through efficiencies; they are concerned these costs will eat into other priorities. The answer lies in patients paying more through compulsory plans or voluntary levies.

This sounds exactly like the practice in European countries, such as Switzerland, of requiring individuals to subscribe to private health insurance plans, through which they can purchase the care of their choice in either the public or private sector. Nowhere in the survey did the CMA offer this option. But read between the lines, and this is the logical conclusion to draw.

A Canada Pension Plan-type health fund is not going to cut it. If the public doesn’t trust the government to find efficiencies in the system, why should they trust it to administer a “health version” of the CPP? CPP contributions are merely taxes by another name. In contrast, subscribing to private health insurance would ensure a competitive marketplace, lower rates and better administered plans than another government bureaucracy.

Including private health-care delivery options would also ease the burden on the public system. And it would provide competition, which would encourage the public system to find those efficiencies Canadians would like to see, but don’t trust the government to discover.

Private care should no longer be the elephant in the room. We commend the CMA for taking the pulse of Canadians on these critical issues. But we hope next time it will include questions about the private options that promise to make our medical system that much healthier.

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