Public Values

Brad Wall and the privatisation of Saskatchewan's health care

Transfer of surgeries to private clinics won't cut costs or reduce wait lists.

by Randy Nelson

A recent agreement made by the Saskatchewan Party government transfers some surgeries to private medical clinics. The stated purpose is to shorten the surgical waiting lists, but there are many implications to consider.

The first consideration is that private clinics would be given somewhat uncomplicated surgeries that would cost less. There is an extra $400 charge to the government for each procedure, however, that confirms the results of reputable studies: medical costs are higher in private clinics. Certainly, governments in Regina and Ottawa know these cost differences, but because of their wide-open private enterprise ideology, you may be sure that such clinics, the precursors of many more to come, are permanent.

Already, we've seen many attacks on the public health system: under the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, payments to the provinces to support Medicare were sliced in half. Prime Minister Harper's federal government refuses to enforce the Canada Health Act. Private surgery clinics are proliferating across the country. A judgement before the Supreme Court of Canada gave people with money the right to jump the health queue to get medical treatment.

And now in the news item "Physicians frustrated" (Saskatchewan Star Phoenix Dec. 1), we learn that Saskatchewan doctors, with one of the lowest fee schedules in Canada, have to resort to job action to settle a contract dispute with the Saskatchewan Party government, a dispute that has lasted over a year and a half. We also learn that there are 120 fewer doctors in the province than there were in 2007. These, among other cuts across the country, are, in the opinion of many, only the thin edge of the wedge.

Ever since Medicare was established, wealthy taxpayers have complained that the system is unsustainable. Yet, as a proportion of our Gross Domestic Product, Medicare costs have remained constant. And even after nearly fifty years, our health care system is still recognized as being one of the best in the world.

No proponent of private medical clinics can explain how privatization of basic health services will provide more doctors to shorten the medical waiting lists in the public sector. Instead, medical practitioners will be bled away from public Medicare, resulting in longer waiting lists.

Not only that, but every CEO and every board member of every company is legally bound to maximize profits for the corporation he or she operates; thus, while initially private companies may lower costs to attract clients, in the long run they must act to maximize profits. And don't try to tell us that Canadian companies are morally different than their US counterparts.

But now, as our society ages and as the baby boomers retire, there will be more demands on the health care system. Everyone knows that more money will be needed to supply those demands. However, the natural resources of Canada, like Saskatchewan potash, belong to all the citizens of Canada, and we have the right to demand that the money from those resources be used for necessities like proper Medicare.

Yet, privatized health care, with people being able to jump to the front of the queue, could well be a detriment even to the wealthy. Witness the American advertisements for drugs. It is proven that those ads cause people to urge doctors to prescribe those advertised drugs.

Similarly, ads could urge people to come in for tests such as MRIs and other unnecessary procedures, a phenomenon that appears to be happening already in British Columbia. Such ads have helped cause Americans to have the highest rates of invasive cardiac procedures in the world: 45percent more than any other country.

Numerous studies and commissions, such as the Romanow Commission, have made suggestions to mitigate Medicare problems, and certainly we will always have to work on those problems, but it must be done in a way that preserves Medicare for everyone in Canada.

Apparently, the Canadian Medical Association wants to keep the system, with improvements that reflect the changing times. For instance, many excellent Canadian doctors work for 50percent less pay than they could receive in the US. However, at a recent CMA convention, the federal minister of health, Ms. Aglukkaq, did not appear. One can only conclude that the CMA's ideas are too far to the left for our Prime Minister.

Charles Baillie, former CEO of TD Canada Trust, said a few years ago, "I choose to talk about health care as a banker — as a corporate leader — because I believe it's high time that we in the private sector went on record to make the case that Canada's health care system is an economic asset, not a burden, one that today, more than ever, our country dare not lose."

Baby boomers pay taxes to support a health system for everyone, a system we could lose. We challenge baby boomers and everyone younger to join those of us who believe in keeping our publically funded and administered health care. As Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare, said, "Governments can hear the sound of a ballot dropping into a ballot box across the country."

A retired school teacher and former Member of the Legislative Assembly for the NDP, Saskatchewan native Randy Nelson continues to be active as an NDP fundraiser.

Posted: December 19, 2010

  Health care
  Public services

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