Numerous Canadian public policy academics, public health experts and writers, including André Picard and Jeffrey Simpson at The Globe and Mail, claim that Canada’s health-care system is lagging behind other western countries. As Picard noted in a column last spring in The Globe and Mail entitled Dragging Medicare into the 21st Century: “Canadians take pride in besting the United States on the health front, but it is a hollow victory. The reality is that every other developed country has universal health care that is better, fairer and cheaper than ours. We are big on grand pronouncements such as, ‘Medicare is what defines us as Canadians.’ But we are laggards on the practical side. Canadians want care that is appropriate, timely, accessible, safe and affordable, from birth until death. Yet our system is failing on virtually all those measures. Why? For starters, we lack vision and goals. Canadian health care is a $200-billion-a-year enterprise with no clear goals and a dearth of leadership. We talk endlessly about the sustainability of Medicare but have no idea what we want to sustain.”
It is an interesting and relevant comment in these days of austerity and increased demand on the health-care system. A great Christmas gift is a book called Chronic Condition by Jeffrey Simpson that highlights the serious crisis in Canada’s health-care system and blows up the “myth” of Canada having the best system in the world. Simpson maintains that Canadians have only four options to end this growing crisis: 1. cuts in spending 2. tax increases 3. privatization and 4. reaping savings through increased efficiency. Ottawa Life Magazine begins its Health-Care Series Are We as Good as We Think We Are? in this issue with an overview of some of the serious challenges in our national Medicare system. Over the length of the series, we will look to Wendy Nicklin of Accreditation Canada and other health experts to provide readers with some insight into how Canada’s health-care system can be made more efficient and accessible for all without bankrupting the nation.
Health care should be one of the top priorities for discussion during the upcoming Liberal leadership race. It will be interesting to see which of the candidates has the courage to take on this behemoth. As Simpson notes: “Medicare is the third rail of Canadian politics. Touch it and you die. Every politician knows this truism, which is why no one wants to debate it. Privately, many of them understand that the health-care system, which costs about $200 billion a year in public and private money, cannot continue as it is — increasingly ill-adapted to an aging population with public costs growing faster than government revenues.”
The Liberal leadership candidate who addresses this issue head on may find that he/she has more support than he/she thinks. Time will tell. Be happy. Be healthy. Merry Christmas!