Friday, July 17, 2009

Health cuts unnecessary and a broken promise

The Campbell government has decided the province’s sick and injured should carry a chunk of the recession’s burden.
The health authorities - more than three months into the fiscal year - have been told to make $360 million in spending cuts.
They’re looking for administrative savings, of course.
But they are also planning layoffs, longer waits for surgery and cuts in acute and residential care.
The government has decided that keeping the deficit small is more important than maintaining health care at the current level. People should limp longer with their bad knees or wait longer for care.
Governments can do what they want. But we’ve just been through an election campaign. And the Liberals did not talk about reducing the level of health care in the interests of fiscal responsibility. (And the other parties and media, myself included, did not raise the issue effectively.)
Quite the contrary. They promised to protect health care.
Health Minister Kevin Falcon wrote to the health authorities Wednesday. (Or, more accurately, public affairs staff drafted a dozen versions of a letter really aimed at managing media coverage.)
After 535 words setting out all the great things had been done in the last few years, Falcon got to the point.
The authorities had submitted budgets based on maintaining care. The government wanted $360 million cut.
That’s a 3.5-per-cent cut. After years of funding shortfalls, the health authorities and hospitals have ground costs out of the system. There are always savings to be had — you can stop cutting the lawns, cut corners on cleaning costs or cancel travel.
But those won’t add up to $360 million.
Vancouver Coastal plans to reduce surgeries by three per cent and Fraser Health is cutting the number of elective surgeries and limiting MRIs.
The Interior Health Authority is looking at capping or reducing community care and making people wait longer for elective surgery. It’s also cutting jobs and freezing clinical hours. The Northern Health Authority is reducing nursing care.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority is putting off maintenance, freezing programs and plans to reduce “volumes of elective surgeries, procedures and diagnostics” to stay within the funding. (It also plans to sell off property to make up for the operating deficit, much like selling the furniture to pay the mortgage. The next payment comes, and then what?)
The authorities have acknowledged that care will suffer — fewer surgeries, for example, means people will wait longer. That sounds OK, unless you’re the one limping on a horribly painful kneee.
You could make the case for health cuts. The recession means less revenue for government. Why shouldn’t people accept reduced care?
But that is not what the Liberals promised during the campaign
So where is the mandate for reduced health care - longer waits for surgery, delays in tests to determine what treatment is, or isn’t, needed?
This is about $360 million. What would be wrong with an increase in MSP premiums — which are graduated to the ease the burden on low-income families — to make up the shortfall. For a singe person, all that would be needed would be a $12-per-month increase to maintain health care at last year’s level; for a four, about $3.50 a person a month.
We can afford it. Health care costs have been increasing faster than the overall inflation rate. But we’re older and the treatments have got slicker and more expensive. We still want them for our family members.
And health care remains a bargain. In 1995, health costs consumed about 6.6 of provincial GDP. Last year - 13 years on - it was seven per cent. There are cost pressures that have to be addressed in the coming years, but no crisis.
But, for whatever reasons, the government has decided that it’s time to go backwards on health care for British Columbians.
Footnote: The NDP challenged the timing of the announcement, accusing the Liberals of hiding the cuts until after the provincial election. The delay – whatever the cause – results in deeper cuts as savings must be found in the remaining months of the fiscal year.


Anonymous said...

The raising of the MSP premiums is an excellent suggestion. Too bad the government didn’t think of it first; as they are always too stubborn to admit when anyone else has a good idea. Mind you Dix would be screaming blue bloody murder if they raised MSP premiums a dime….then again he screams daily regardless anyways. I am with Paul on this one; $12 a month ($ 144 a year) works out to the same as my monthly satellite TV bill; not including any pay per view programming.

Maybe we can start a raise the MSP Premiums movement instead. Good idea here !

DPL said...

THis government has no limit to what they throw at the big circus but can't afford to put extra money into health care. Over the years the percentage went from just over 6 percent to seven. The world will not end anyday soon, even though the Liberals keep telling us it's out of control

Gazetteer said...

Not too put too fine a point on it (because I do agree that there are much bigger longterm issues playing out here), but....

"....The health authorities - more than three months into the fiscal year - have been told to make $360 million in spending cuts.....

$360 million?

Hmmmmm.....isn't that at least $5, give or take, less than this vitally important project?


Anonymous said...

Not bad as we had this huge jump in premiums once when ripping up
contracts , however everyone else in Canada does not pay premiums. What did we get for this treatment , why the closing of our local hospital , less service and more crap. And maybe if we're desperate or unlucky we get to visit the home of dificile c . Nanaimo hospital. where those responsible for the horrible cleaning job were rewarded instead of castigated.Too many broken promises and a terrible job of reporters asking questions. Its all the bloggers fault according to the boys on Edge of the ledge. No scandal here its all great.

Anonymous said...

A cynic might suggest that this is all bargaining posturing by the BC Liberals as they head into the 2010 negotiating season - greedy unions need to know that there is no dough.

Anonymous said...

Campbell's cuts to health budgets result in longer waits for surgeries and MRI's, not good news for most of us but great business for the private for profit clinics which Falcon endorses....If you can afford it!

Anonymous said...

An interesting read (from 1963) on health care. "Uncertainty and Welfare Economics of Medical Care", by Kenneth J. Arrow -- link [.PDF]

2008 Nobel Prize in Economics winner Paul Krugman calls it "one of the most influential economic papers of the postwar era."