Premiers don’t need slush fund to innovate in health care

Posted on January 17, 2012 in Health Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – news/opinions/editorials
Published Monday, Jan. 16, 2012.  Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012.   Editor

Even as economic necessity stares the provinces in the face, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is proposing an “innovation fund” for medicare, and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says he won’t have enough money to innovate because the seniors population is growing so quickly.

Mr. Wall and Mr. Dexter have it backward. Financial necessity is the best spur to innovation, not a slush fund labelled Innovation. But the premiers, even those who had seemed to welcome a unilateral federal funding plan, can’t seem to focus on the next steps to building a more innovative, agile, cost-effective health-care system. Not to mention one of higher quality.

The provinces don’t need to, and shouldn’t have to go to Ottawa for permission to innovate. The process would be time-consuming and distant from local concerns. In fact, the previous 10-year health accord overseen by Liberal prime minister Paul Martin was supposed to have bought $41-billion of innovation. It didn’t.

But financial necessity isn’t something that anyone seems prepared for. The federal government promised to give 6 per cent a year in annual increases in health-care transfer payments for each of the next three years. After that, depending on economic growth, increases will be a minimum of 3 per cent a year, and possibly a fair bit more. The day of reckoning seems so far off that the provinces feel they can afford to use up the oxygen in the room, as Mr. Wall put it, on a variety of demands – whether an innovation fund or health transfers geared to the age of their population. (British Columbia Premier Christy Clark also wants age to be given its due.)

Mr. Wall says he took hope from a letter to the provinces from Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. But Ms. Aglukkaq’s letter talked about working together to make the health system more sustainable and accountable.

The ball (or perhaps the IV drip) is in the provinces’ court, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday. They should be using the available oxygen and time to find new ways to cut waiting lists, add electronic records, adapt family care, develop home care and so much more. An Innovation Fund is not the mother of invention. Necessity is.

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