Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Health Care - The Real Third Choice

April 28, 2006

Health Care - The Real Third Choice

The Real Third Choice

By Cameron Wigmore

Public or private health care, or... what else? While Ralph Klein is promoting his 'Third Way' health care plan, many of us are asking if the government can't do better.

The Alberta provincial government recently released details on the "third way" for our health care system. The ten policy directions described at the provincial government's website are heavy on the political rhetoric, but a few caught my eye. One of the ten policy directions is, "establishing parameters for publicly funded health services". This would allow us to open up the discussion of reassessing what health services are covered by the public system, and that means it will then be possible to remove current health services from coverage. Another is, "creating long-term sustainability and flexible funding options". I have to ask myself if the government that's proposing a more privatized health care system is just trying to avoid paying the bill. This policy proposal is coming from a government that according to a recent article in the Globe & Mail is talking about a $10 billion surplus.

It's important for us to note that within this “system that's as healthy as the people it's designed to serve”, preventative measures are mentioned nowhere. How healthy does the government want Canadians to be? It seems to me that the government's idea of 'sustainable' is to contribute less and less for our health care, in short to gradually chip away at our health care system, so that they can pass this growing financial burden on to families and individuals. I see another definition of sustainable, one that includes a not-so-revolutionary concept: prevention.

We've all heard our parents tell us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I say we can make our country's health care system sustainable by promoting and supporting preventative health as a way to reduce the cost for all of us. For the most part, our health care system treats the symptoms and not the causes of our illnesses. It's said by some that the health care crisis is mainly a crisis in hospital funding and rising drug costs, but there is a bigger picture to be seen. The real answer is to go beyond a health care system to develop a fully-integrated health system, one that focuses on solving the underlying problems affecting our well-being, not just treating the symptoms. We can shift our way of life and build a sustainable public health system by fostering illness prevention through healthy and active living.

But healthy living is only a part of what will keep Canadians healthy. The other part is a healthy home. We need to start making the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy life. Canadians can no longer afford to be complacent in the face of mounting evidence that degradations in their environment are causing degradations of their health. It is widely accepted that asthma rates are linked to air pollution, meaning that the health system could save money if the government took real steps to curb things like vehicle and industrial emissions. Governments estimate that air pollution is responsible for thousands of premature deaths every year as well as causing higher asthma rates in children. In the last decade skin cancer has increased by 30 per cent. Pesticides that release powerful carcinogens and cause reproductive problems are still widely used and unregulated. Protection of the environment will translate into a greater balance in our health and will reduce pressure on our public health system.

According to the Romanow report our current system is sustainable, as we've seen in various European countries. We already have a degree of privatization; I have to pay the dentist for the candy I ate when I was younger straight out of my own pocket, and optometry is another health service that's not publicly funded. I'm not complaining about that, but I'd hate to have to make the choice between a hip-replacement operation next week costing thousands of dollars, and one in a few years that's paid for by the government. Our government insists that “if current spending trends continue, health care will consume Alberta's entire budget in 25 years.” If that's true, it will be because we've created more cancer, more childhood asthma, more autism, more unhealthy Canadians. It will mean that the private system won't work for us either. Either way, it certainly doesn't help Alberta's case. The fact that health care costs are increasing is an indicator that we're not only just an aging population, but that we're getting sicker and need more prevention and real health, not more privatization.

A sustainable health care system needs more than just increased tax dollars, or in the case of Klein's plan increased privatization. It needs support through health-conscious environmental policies, relief through practical promotion of healthy lifestyles (especially for children), nourishment through health-conscious regulation of the food industry, and coordination through a broader focus on health in all our social programs.

What I'm describing isn't costly, and it isn't even revolutionary. This is a real third choice; one that costs less, is sustainable, and allows for continued access to publicly funded health care services.

Cameron Wigmore

Green Party of Canada

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