We Need Private Health Care

Commentary, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) President Paul Moist, responding to my August 13 column focusing on government orders to shut down Dr. Brian Day's Vancouver medical clinics, wrote "Simply repeating irrational arguments is no relief for Canadians on waiting lists for health care". Moist must have accidentally overlooked the story in my column about 36 year old Mandy Martens, one of many who received a lifesaving cancer diagnosis at Dr. Day's clinic after facing lengthy waits in the public system. Apparently her story is "irrational "and of "no relief".

A common tactic of those unable to refute a fact-based argument is to develop a mantra to be repeated again and again in the hope that it will become common belief.

For example, the union leader's letter to the editor stated "Assumptions that the private sector would lead to more efficient health-care delivery have been proven false time and again". Just where on earth would that be, when Canada is virtually the only country in the world that makes it a crime for private clinics to deliver so-called "medically necessary services"?

Or how about this assertion: "A second for-profit tier would worsen accessibility, increase costs and lower quality for the majority of people." Several independent studies have shown precisely the opposite.

For example, the 2010 edition of the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2010, from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and Sweden-based Health Consumer Powerhouse, found that, despite the fourth highest per-capita spending, Canadian health care ranks 25th compared with 33 European countries, every one of which features a mixture of public and private spending. Not surprisingly, these countries have found that money spent voluntarily for private care actually reduces costs within the public system, and that patients treated privately free up places on public system waiting lists.

Moist also wrote: "To claim any system can be improved by dividing already scarce resources defies common sense." But the number of patients and the number of workers are the same with or without a private care option.

What about his argument that "Lengthy wait times and overcrowded hospitals are due to a chronic shortage of trained and experienced health-care workers". Moist might be onto something. We disagree on the solutions. Spiraling costs mean health administrators must limit hospital beds and staffing; placing dedicated but overstretched personnel in an unsustainable, and even dangerous, high-stress environment. How can the system hire more when we are having trouble paying the ones we have?

No matter which side of this argument one supports, laws forbidding patients from paying for their own treatment must end for the simple reason that it's becoming impossible to fund the public system with taxpayer dollars alone. A recent study by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation projects that average real per capita provincial health care spending would need to grow from 81 to 160 per cent by 2035. on top of existing costs that even now require deficit funding in every province but Saskatchewan.

The need for Canada to join all other countries in allowing mixed public/private healthcare funding couldn't be clearer. If we don't act now, not only will those dependent on other government social programs face drastic cutbacks, but those counting upon no cost public health care will suffer ever longer waiting lists.