Healthcare spending reaching a crisis

If you’re a regular reader, you won’t be surprised to hear me say our health care system is in trouble. This statement also won’t be a shock to you if you have followed the news in our country for any amount of time.

We are constantly hearing about waitlists, serious shortages in physicians, nurses and health care support staff at all levels, lack of funds, an aging population and a large percentage of our trained health care providers nearing retirement.

Yes our health care system is in need of an overhaul and mental health more so than any other component.

In spite of all of these shortcomings, we actually do spend a lot of money on health care – so much so that health spending is quickly taking over our provincial and federal budgets.

Governments repeatedly rank health care as a top priority and in terms of dollars spent, it truly is. However it seems like we keep throwing money into the pit while the pit keeps getting deeper and deeper. It continues swallowing our tax dollars, but is increasingly unsustainable.

Our health costs are rising at a rate we simply cannot sustain with our current tax structure. Since tax hikes are so unpopular, money is instead being quietly redirected from other programs (such as education, social services and culture) to maintain healthcare.

Ten years ago the Conference Board of Canada reported on health care in BC and warned the health budget (then $8 billion) would double within 20 years. Instead, it will reach $16 billion in just two more years - 8 years earlier than predicted.

In the past decade, BC health spending has grown by 84 percent.

Over just the last three years, the provincial health budget has gone up by $2 billion while all other areas of spending except transportation have decreased.

In Ontario, several sources claim if spending continues on its current track, health care will take up 80 percent of the total provincial budget within 20 years. There is no reason to believe the situation is much different in any other province.

Clearly, some things will need to change if we are going to continue providing decent and affordable health care to all Canadians. Our current methods of spending and planning are not sustainable and are increasingly not meeting the needs of the population.

Now more than ever, health care reform is necessary. It needs to be a political and public priority involving more than just talk and reports but followed quickly with decisive, well-thought-out action.

To date, the bureaucratic approach has been to reorganize health care regions, contract out services and replace health care providers with increasingly less educated employees who cost less. Physicians have been castigated to the point where they no longer volunteer their time for the multitude of functions once done free of charge. As a result, government now has to pay for all committee, administrative and on-call work doctors once did for free. Someone should calculate how much this has cost the system – all because the profession was not treated respectfully.

Doctors and other healthcare providers no longer have a role in designing the system and I believe this is the biggest problem. What we need are patient-centred, problem solving approaches to healthcare that work at a practical level with emphasis on primary and secondary prevention. Unfortunately, administrators and politicians do not look at healthcare in the same way as those who actually provide the care – so their solutions do not always reflect what is both practical and good for the patient.

In addition to a re-vamped healthcare system designed by professionals in providing care, societal problems such as children living in poverty and the mentally ill living on the streets or in prison need to be addressed before we will see a dramatic fall in healthcare costs.


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