What Are Your Health Care Dollars Buying?
Asking Canadians if they are getting value for their money when it comes to spending on health care is like asking a blind person if they can see better when the room light is turned on or off. We are forcibly made oblivious to the specific costs of medical services we receive in Canada. This prevents us from making any cost-benefit analysis concerning the quality and performance of our publicly funded health care system. It also effectively keeps us from developing high expectations.
Our provincial and territorial governments continue to increase spending in areas with the highest level of public discontent otherwise known as “priority areas”. However, this only leads to funding cuts in other areas, decreased services, and growing budget deficits. It is not problem-solving but rather problem-shifting. This process does not provide for better alternatives it only serves to distract us from exploring them.
Here is what we find as we begin to pay attention to the spending habits of those in charge of our health care dollars.
In October 2009 the Toronto Star featured an article revealing the Ontario Ministry of Health’s practice of sidestepping government guidelines regarding the pay scale of civil servants. According to the article a number of exceedingly high civil servant salaries are hidden in the budgets of hospitals not employing them. The government claims it is a long time practice used to help attract talented people to the government sector. It is understandable that higher salaries may be needed to attract talented individuals who would otherwise receive pay-for-performance incentives found in the private sector. What is troublesome is the hide-and-seek mentality of the Ministry of Health regarding the spending of taxpayers’ health care dollars. Two weeks following the publishing of the article Premier Dalton McGuinty stated the practice would be changing.
Alberta released its 2010 provincial budget on February 9th. The budget absorbs the 1.3 billion dollar deficit of Alberta Health Services and allocates billons more in health care spending for “priority areas”. Health care spending in Alberta will account for roughly 44% of their provincial expenditures in 2010. Writing off this deficit helps to further hide the problems of the health care system and silence the allegations of government mismanagement.
It seems as though our health care dollars are buying the same old problems instead of new solutions.