More money wouldn’t help

Many Canadians believe health care would be better in this country if Ottawa and the provinces would simply spend more money.

Many Canadians believe health care would be better in this country if Ottawa and the provinces would simply spend more money.

In recent decades, our governments have generally increased the number of dollars devoted to such care, but new research suggests taxpayers haven’t received much bang for their buck.

In fact, wait times have largely gotten worse as health expenditures have soared.

That’s according to Nadeem Esmail, director of health system performance studies for the Fraser Institute.

He notes that while health-care spending in Canada has increased by 35 per cent since 2000, wait times have mostly not improved.

“Meanwhile,” Esmail says, “countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland spend less than Canada and provide universal access care with virtually no wait lists.”

Amazingly, according to the Fraser Institute, between 1993 and 2009, inflation-adjusted provincial health expenditures per person rose by 47 per cent in Canada.

But wait times in Canada are much higher today than they were in 1993.

“Over the past few years, Canada’s governments have been ramping up spending faster than their ability to afford it and focusing on defining a limit to how long Canadians should wait for care,” Esmail says, adding that the wait times are still “troubling long.”

The health-care expert says Canada appears to have no interest in trying to understand how other countries can deliver as good, if not better, health care than we do much more quickly and cheaply.

So, who is to blame?

For sure, our Canadian system of bureaucracy is a big part of the problem.

Too many Canadians simply will not accept a system that consists of a reasonable mix of publicly and privately provided services. They worry that have such an efficient system would be “too American.”

As well, though few Canadians realize it, unions have made our health-care system extraordinarily expensive.

While such organizations should be working closely with governments to make the system more efficient, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta is currently sponsoring radio ads that urge Albertans to complain to their government that not enough money is being spent on health care.

As recently as 2005, Esmail says, Canada had the world’s second most expensive universal-access health-care system. And yet to this day, he adds, we have “some of the longest wait times for medically necessary health care in the developed world.”

The Alberta government is taking a lot of criticism for trying to get health-care costs under control, but Premier Ed Stelmach and his colleagues are on the right track.

Something must be done, not only to reduce costs but also to decrease wait times.

Other jurisdictions have demonstrated that timely and good quality care can be provided at a reasonable cost.

It’s time we did the same.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.

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