SHAW: It’s time to heal what ails Canada’s health care systems

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The need to reform Canada’s health care systems has long been a hot topic of debate. After all, Canada is an easy target: it has one of the highest prices among countries with universal healthcare systems in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, but its performance has lagged for years. .

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The effect of the poor performance of Canada’s health care systems on the lives of patients is bad enough, but now the lack of capacity is interfering with the daily lives of all Canadians. Indeed, the (re)reintroduction of the strict public health measures that have been put in place in several provinces in response to the Omicron wave has been justified on several occasions by the lack of capacity of our health systems.

So how can we fix them? On one side of the debate are those who believe that throwing more money at the problem would be a miraculous cure. Unfortunately, several provincial premiers seem to be of this opinion, with their plea to substantially increase the Canada health transfer.

And yet, health care spending in Canada has grown at an average annual rate of more than 7% since 1975, with no better outcomes for patients. In fact, 55% of Canadians believe that the extra money injected over the past decade has had no effect or has actually damaged their health care system. At this point, spending even more taxpayers’ money would simply put our healthcare systems on life support.

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On the other hand, there are those who want to give space to the country’s health systems by expanding the role of entrepreneurs in the delivery of care. Such structural reform could involve encouraging provinces to form more partnerships between public and private institutions, or even letting entrepreneurs run state-funded hospitals.

Now, embracing a greater mix of public and private care would not equate to Americanizing our health care. Allowing and even encouraging entrepreneurs to take over is not a danger to the universality of Canada’s health care systems. On the contrary, as many European countries are well aware, such a change would increase the accessibility of the services that families already pay for through their taxes and would provide greater choice within the public system. As a bonus, expanding the role of entrepreneurs would allow health authorities to make better use of the billions of dollars spent on health care each year.

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Involving entrepreneurs in the delivery of health services is the next step towards more efficient systems of which Canadians can be truly proud – systems that encourage innovation and prioritize public-private partnerships rather than always relying on mechanisms of a single-payer system. Taking this step will require political courage and the cooperation of all levels of governance, including unions, professional orders and colleges.

In fact, running a health care system shouldn’t be about politics at all. It is about doing everything possible to guarantee the high quality of care that Canadians have a right to expect, given that 33% of federal and provincial government budgets go directly to their health care system.

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Enough has been said about health reform; it is time to act and catch up with other universal health systems around the world that have already embraced the role of entrepreneurs in the delivery of care. Otherwise, the next generation is doomed to experience the same sorrows we are experiencing today. As we head into the umpteenth wave of COVID-19, the pandemic must be the spur that finally gets us to have the conversation we need to have about fundamental reform of Canada’s health care systems. To do less would be irresponsible.

Maria Lily Shaw is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute

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