Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quebec budget woes

I will wander (just for today, though) on my series on medicare. I want to talk about the more political woes in Québec regarding the budget.

I am sure that most people by now know a lot about this whole flurry regarding Mr. Charest's most recent budget (but we can go over it again). In it, he spent all of the new money from Ottawa on a tax cut pour les Québecois that he has been promising for years. Both of the opposition parties have publicly opposed the budget. Even though the ADQ (Action démocratique du Québec) is on the Right and thus for tax cuts, they oppose it in this case arguing that the money should be spent on debt relief. The PQ (Parti Québecois) also is against the budget, saying that the money could be better spent aiding the healthcare system, and funding the education system as well.

At the beginning, Charest and the Liberals were not at all thinking about backing away from their proposed budget, even if that meant an election (the last Québec election was in March). But then a new poll came out, and that of course changed everything. It changed because the Liberals are now in 3rd place, with the ADQ poised to form a minority government. Now, the Liberals are not being so tough.
(CBC: The Liberals change their mind)

"But in the end, I want everyone to know: I'm not the one who is going to decide about the future of this government. The two other political parties, they all have a decision to make on what we'll vote on tomorrow."

I would just like to remind Mr. Charest that yes, he does have a pretty big say on the future of his government; he can just make a better budget! He should remember that politics isn't all about agreeing with governments and having as few elections as possible; politics is about getting this done to make a better province.
So my thoughts on all this. I think that Quebecers deserve better; a better government. (This is only backed up by the quote on the left.) In Québec, you have the two largest parties both wanting to spend money on tax cuts or debt relief when the health system has many problems, the education system needs more funding, and the environment needs as much money as possible in order to reduce emissions to combat global warming.

There needs to be a real change in the way Québec does politics.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Medicare Part 2: Cost is not a problem

Again, I will start off by mentioning an argument against our treasured medicare system: our health care costs are going through the roof; the government simply can't afford to continue to fund health. Once again, there are fundamental flaws to one of their central arguments.

The main 'theme' in this argument is that our costs overall—for health—are accelerating, and therefore it is not feasible to continue to fund this as a country or a province. But it is not like they're lying; our health care costs are in fact rising. However, we cannot keep it to such simple terms as some people do. So while medicare costs are rising, they are not in fact rising in comparison to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) According to economist Robert Evans.

Also speaking of health expenditures in comparison to the GDP, we can also look to Taiwan for some answers. At the conference I attended, there was an "International Perspective" session. One of these 'perspectives' was from Taiwan (provided by Tsung-Mei Cheng). In Taiwan, they too have a form of government-subsidized healthcare (modelled after Canada's). In 1994, 4.8% of Taiwan's GDP was being spent on public health care, which covered 58% of the cases/population. However, now Taiwan is spending only slightly more (5.7% of the GDP) on health, and more than 99% of the population is covered!

Finally, we must look at what part of our health system is increasing the costs of health. At the conference, Roy Romanow pointed out a common myth about our health system. Many people believe that every aspect of our system is publicly funded. This, in fact, is not true. An all too large percentage (more than 20%) of the health system is privately funded. We must also remember that when groups like the Fraser Institute say that our costs are rising, they are also including the costs of the private health sector as well. So when they say that we're paying too much, that also includes non-governmental funds, with budgets, fees and profits that are not at all controlled by the government. Romanow also gave us an example of the difference in cost increases, and while I was not intelligent enough to write down the time span of these increases, I did get the increases themselves. Over this certain time span, public health expenditures only rose by 4.5%, while private costs went up 6.6%; it is not, then, the public medicare system that is mostly driving up costs, it is instead the private system that is doing this.

So just remember, don't take the arguments exactly as they're told. The public system is still the way forward.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Medicare Part 1: Our system v. America's

Last Thursday and Friday, I attended the S.O.S. Medicare conference 2 in Regina. The main objective was to establish a clear goal for where to go now in terms of medicare, particularly relating to the "second stage" of medicare. Today, I will start a series on medicare (with no definite end date).

" 'Everyone for themselves!' said the elephant as he danced among the chickens."

– Tommy Douglas
As we all know, there are several groups in Canada trying to fight against our medicare system, including the Fraser Institute. One of their arguments is that our medicare system is becoming unsustainable due to increasing costs. But, as was pointed out at the conference by economist Robert Evans, health expenditures in Canada are not rising in comparison to the GDP, and the biggest increases in health are, in fact, in the private system (which governments are quietly letting through the door). He also reminded us that we must remember that more than half of Americans who declare bankruptcy due to health costs actually have private health insurance!

Their other main argument is wait times. They say that if there was a second tier of health care—involving the private sector—people could simply pay and get treatment faster. They sometimes refer to the U.S. where there are barely any waiting lists. The thing, though, is that in the U.S. they have very little waiting lists, because many people simply can't get onto a list due to financial reasons! It is completely unacceptable to have a society where money buys health; all people should be treated equally, regardless of ability to pay.

In New Zealand—where they have a two-tiered health system—specialists spend only 48% of their time in public hospitals; the rest is spent at private hospitals treating people who can pay more.
Opponents of public medicare also point to the shortage of doctors and nurses as a sign that government medicare is not working for Canadians. However, we must remember that everyone is getting treated by these professionals; they don't have a shortage in America because, again, they have a smaller per capita population who 'deserves' to get health care.

Health care is not a privilege for the privileged few; it is a right for everyone. I believe it is quite obvious that a private, American-style system won't get us anywhere; and I think most Canadians believe that, too. However, the real fight is going to be to improve our current system to make it even more accessible to everyone, in order to stop a two-tiered system. We need to move forward to make health in Canada an even greater right for everyone, not make it a corporate profit-making business.

The next part of this series will not be posted until May 24th or 25th, as I will be out-of-town for the next two weeks.