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Scare tactics about health care betray a conflict of interest

On March 7th 2011, in an open letter to Ontario Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan, John Manley, President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said that the Province of Ontario, was in “urgent need of a review” of its health care spending because it is Ontario’s “fastest growing expense”.

Perhaps Mr. Manley has not been paying attention to the spending patterns of provinces on their social programs of late. Health care is consuming a larger piece of the fiscal pie, because the pie itself is shrinking. Provinces have been increasingly spending less money on social programs since the mid-1990s, when the federal government cut fiscal transfers to the provinces.

Meanwhile, health care costs, across Canada as well as in Ontario, have remained fairly stable. In Canada, from 2005-2010, health care has taken less than an additional 1% of its share of provincial budgets. In Ontario, health care has grown by 1% of GDP from the late 1980’s to the mid-2000s, hardly “unsustainable” as some might claim.

Yes, an aging population will add costs, but only 1% of GDP over the next 20 years, according to Hugh Mackenzie of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. However, numerous examples have been provided on how we can sustainably address those costs. Studies across Canada have shown that investing in comprehensive community care (such as home care and continuing care) not only save the provinces money, but also shorten hospital wait times and make available more hospital beds.

As Canadian Doctors for Medicare stated in their recent report on health care sustainability, the largest growth in health care spending lies in the private system (pharmaceuticals being the most significant driver of increasing costs). If we really wanted to reduce rising expenditures, we should reduce public spending in the for-profit system. The Canadian Health Coalition has already crunched the numbers and they’ve shown that we could save $10.7 billion with a national drug plan. But likely the groups Mr. Manley represents, like pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, would prefer to profit from selling drugs to multiple buyers rather than negotiating prices under a single-buyer system.

I would further argue that if Ontario wants to save costs, they should not spend their resources on a “high-level provincial task force”; instead, it’s time to implement the solutions that have already been put forward, such as those contained within the Romanow Report. Ontario needs to look at some of the evidence-based programmes already functioning in many provinces, and move away from the profit-driven privatized system which time and time again has proven to cost our public system more money.

Spending less public money on health care, especially when facing an aging population, is not a smart nor a humane solution to our fiscal concerns. People in Ontario and across Canada greatly value their health care system. Our health is worth investing in! And, Mr. Manley’s alarmist threat that Ontario will not be able to afford to borrow more money is frankly, a scare tactic. Let’s look at real and sustainable solutions to Ontario’s health care system.

Adrienne Silnicki is Health Care Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.