It's open season on health care (Editorial)

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with editorial views supporting Canada’s public health-care system. Having spent nearly a decade as a health-care journalist prior to taking on the role of managing editor at Canadian HR Reporter, the topic is a dear one. But the constant agitation for expanding private sector involvement in the system should have all Canadians — and business leaders in particular — rising to the defence of a system that provides one of few tangible business advantages our nation can claim over the economic powerhouse to the south.

It’s purely an issue of math. Health-care costs in the United States rise faster than those of any other industrialized nation, America’s expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP (about 14 per cent and rising) is roughly four points higher than Canada’s, 40 million Americans are without proper coverage, and large employers such as the Big Three automakers are struggling to manage employee benefit plans larger than many nations’ budgets.

And why is this? Because the degree of privatization in the U.S. drives up costs overall to produce profit for providers, insurance companies and other private-sector participants.

Canada of course has its own health-care cost problems. The latest solution from Ottawa (or stalling tactic, depending on your point of view) is the appointment of former multi-term Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow to head the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada — a $15-million, 18-month project to investigate options for securing the health of the system. (Apparently earlier commissions didn’t do the trick.)

And as the commission prepared to kick off its mission at the beginning of this month, its first order of business was to respond to Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ call for a health-care “revolution” that would include private-sector hospitals.

With the government of Canada’s most populous province joining electorally undefeatable Alberta Premier Ralph Klein (whose government recently passed Bill 11 allowing private hospitals) as the champions of private-sector health-care venture opportunities, the nation once again enters the breach. Time for public-sector defenders — Canadians with math skills — to once again defend a system superior to America’s. It’s a shame all this effort can’t be redirected into finding solutions within the public system.

Romanow’s initial response was characteristically diplomatic. “My mind is open.” This can also be read as “I have 18 months to go, there’s lots of time to take you on later…so, have a seat at the table and let’s talk.” A former NDP Premier from the province that gave birth to Canada’s publicly funded system, siding with Harris and Klein at the end of the day? Don’t count on it.

In the meantime it’s up to business leaders to chime in. Corporate Canada can either take the cost advantages of a health system without private-sector profit markups, or take a trip to Detroit and study the Big Three’s benefits strategy to prepare for the big payout.

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