Make health debate about health (editorial)

Another day, another government-sponsored commission on health care. This season it’s called the Romanow commission.

Despite having previously spent a decade as a health-care reporter, tabulating the number of federal and provincial commissions established to probe the health system is beyond me — they all seem to blur into one never-ending political debate about private-sector involvement and the financial unsustainability of the current system.

So when former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow asks for public input, I can understand the fatigue defenders of public health care feel having to regurgitate the issues once again.

But for employers and Canadians alike that can be a dangerous attitude — a cynic may think that’s what proponents of greater private-sector involvement want. “Okay, Ralph, do whatever you want as long as we don’t have to hear about health care anymore.”

But Canadians can’t afford to be complacent and employers can’t afford the costs of a status quo system — as a glance at our cover story on premium hikes underlines — so, joining the debate is an unavoidable burden.

Unfortunately, the debate is not always what it should be. The problem with the polarized squabbling over private-sector health care is that it often focuses on ideology about system structures and funding levels without zeroing in on some hard facts about the health of Canadians.

Oh sure, words like “wellness” get tossed in every now and then, but if Canada spent as much energy addressing the poor-eating and lifestyle habits in this country as it does reacting to threats of private hospitals, then the need for more funding and restructuring could even become a moot point.

Diabetes and heart disease, for example, are major illnesses confronting Canadians personally, and the health system financially. And both would be better addressed through lifestyle changes rather than cure-research and treatment. Simply put, in many cases, we can avoid these painful and costly problems through prevention.

But let’s not wait for politicians to stop bickering — employers can help themselves financially by getting on the wellness bandwagon and ushering in a new era of health, fitness and productivity, saving the economy further treatment expenses.

The day every employer operates programs that help staff stop smoking, encourage better eating habits and get people off the couch, is the day that health care in Canada will truly be more affordable and cost effective. And then we can stop arguing about the need for radical system restructuring.

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