Toronto doctor worries budget cuts will affect poor patients the most
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Tue Mar 27 2012, Niamh Scallan, Staff Reporter
Dr. Gary Bloch says he worries Ontario’s proposed budget cuts will affect his patients — some of the city’s poorest residents — the most.
After years of skyrocketing health costs, the cash-strapped McGuinty government announced in its budget Tuesday a series of tough austerity measures, including capping the growth of Ontario’s health portfolio at 2.1 per cent over the next three years.
Compared to the average 6.1 per cent growth over the last decade, it’s a dramatic cut that Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said was necessary to rein in the province’s crippling deficit.
But for Bloch, a family physician and University of Toronto professor who founded Health Providers Against Poverty, the government’s austerity-focused agenda does a disservice to public health, especially for the poor.
“I’m very concerned,” Bloch told the Star Tuesday. “I’m worried it’s a cut with a dull knife and it’s largely the people who live in poverty, especially the extreme end of poverty, who are impacted the most.”
Economist Don Drummond made more than 100 recommendations to improve Ontario’s health-care system in his report to the Ministry of Finance earlier this year — a focus on primary care and patient-focused medicine among them. He also said that without cuts, health-care spending would balloon to $62.5 billion by 2017-18.
In line with Drummond’s recommendations, the McGuinty government’s budget has proposed cuts to large provincial health agencies, capped funding for hospital corporations and potential wage freezes for doctors.
Bloch said those cuts will certainly affect the delivery of health care, but he added that wider social service cuts recommended in the budget — freezing welfare and disability support payments, for example — will likely do enormous damage to his patients’ health in the short-term.
He compared Duncan’s austerity plans to the sweeping social service cuts made back in the mid-1990s. Those cuts, “trending away from social programs,” have proven to negatively impact the health of the population and especially the low-income cohort, he said.
“I worry this is a continuation of that same trend that will absolutely impact those who are most vulnerable first and I think it’s incredibly unfortunate,” Bloch said.
“And I worry this will result in our society being less healthy, which should be the number one goal of the government”
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