Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 13, 2006
Heal, don't privatize health care
For a decade, the Alberta government has been trying to manoeuvre the people of this province into accepting a system of significantly increased private health care by inciting fear of the high cost to taxpayers of the public system and spectre of scarce medical resources. A system that guarantees equal access for all will crumble into a system that eventually provides no access for anyone.
That's the fear. The supposed remedy is the bright, shiny model of a private system where those who wish can pay and receive high-quality treatment without waiting lines.
Again and again, the people of Alberta have rebuffed this false promise. Again and again, the government has returned, intent on imposing a system the people know will not meet their needs as well as the public system does.
Distinguished American physician Arnold Relman summed up the argument against private health care succinctly in a 1992 article in the Atlantic Monthly: "In business, success is measured in terms of increasing sales volume and revenues - the last thing we want to see in the health-care system."
Repeated studies in countries around the world have found the same result: Private health care costs more because of a duplication of services and expensive equipment necessary for competition, higher administrative costs and the need for greater regulation.
Private health care also costs more in social and moral terms because it helps the rich, tends to exclude the poor and erodes rural health care.
We should not give up on the public system. We should strive to make it work more efficiently.
We should promote healthier living through preventive health care including a crusade to drastically reduce obesity. We should seek a cleaner environment, including the elimination of carcinogens.
Our health-care system should reduce costs by making wider and more effective use of health professionals such as nurses, nurse practitioners, dietitians and various therapists, thus reducing the load on high-cost and often over-worked physicians.
We should improve access to long-term care and palliative care, moving people out of acute care beds into less expensive options. This would also help ease the crunch on emergency rooms.
We should also develop more specialized surgical centres within the public system, expanding the spectacular success this province has already had with reducing the waiting times for hip replacements.
Most importantly, Alberta must strive to build a more egalitarian society. Western nations that have the smallest gap between rich and poor also have the healthiest populations. Japan increased the life expectancy of its people significantly by reducing poverty.
Alberta government policies, such as a low minimum wage and a flat tax, have widened the gap between rich and poor. Despite our province's wealth, Calgary and Edmonton have the highest percentage of low birth-weight babies in Canada. Low birth weight is a reliable indicator of poverty and a strong indicator of future health problems.
Poor children have higher rates of disability, higher rates of smoking, alcohol use and pregnancy. They have chronic health problems at roughly twice the rate of other children.
Poor children often suffer stunted physical growth, delayed mental development and higher rates of communicable diseases.
If you want to cut health-care costs then work at reducing poverty.
The Alberta government, even after the massive out-of-budget expenses of the current year, is expecting a $7.5-billion surplus for 2005-06. Why is our government so fraught with fear over the cost of the public health-care system when other governments with far fewer resources are committed to making it work? We should be a people of hope who seize the opportunity before us to create a more egalitarian system, one that will promote the long-term health of Albertans.
- Glen Argan
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