Editorial: Mutual understanding missing in health-care debate

In November 2004, Canadians elected Tommy Douglas, the man behind this country’s medicare system, as the “Greatest Canadian,” in a CBC-hosted competition. Just another indicator of how highly Canadians value public health care.

This month, in the wake of annual budget announcements from the federal and provincial governments, Canadians must face the reality that our health-care system is changing.

In early March, the Ontario Liberal government suggested that the days of increased provincial spending on health care are over — and that Dalton McGuinty now wants to see some proof of improvement in the system. His government has even suggested measures like paying hospital executives in proportion to the success of their hospitals’ treatment or patients.

In East York, we’re already getting a sneak peek of what this new health care regime could look like. This coming Thursday, Toronto East General Hospital is closing its outpatient physiotherapy clinic. A hospital manager was blunt about the reason: “This year, we will not be getting a significant increase to our budget. The $300,000 is a savings basically for us to meet our budget.”

This reverse logic of denying further provincial support in order to ensure quality has health-care workers in the system, patient and rural advocates, and others crying out in protest. But with health-care expenditures already maxed out at 46 per cent of the provincial budget, Premier McGuinty insists that it is necessary to ensure Ontario citizens get the best value from their tax dollars.

The danger is that doctors, clinics and hospitals will now feel encouraged to focus their resources on offering only a few, top-notch services at their facilities — and the variety of treatments available to Ontario residents in their local hospitals will be reduced. Private and alternative practitioners may partly close the gap, but for those who can’t afford private care, or who live outside the cities where alternatives are offered, a long trip or a long wait may be the only option.

At a public meeting to save the TEGH physiotherapy clinic on March 9, MPP Peter Tabuns encouraged attendees to write to hospital board executives and the provincial government. But as it stands, constituents are not sufficiently informed about hospital expenditures to make constructive contributions.

If hospitals provided invoices to patients at every hospital visit, they might be more in touch with the costs of public health care to hospitals and the government.

If provided with this information, residents might better understand budget cuts, and be able to contribute more valuable solutions to the discussion. Until then, pleas to the government and hospital boards can be dismissed.

Preserving health care as a social safety net in Canada will require everyone’s patience, understanding and contribution.

Canadians clearly value their health-care system. If hospitals and governments must resort to service cuts and private-sector partnerships to balance budgets, we need to get everyone on the same page: the invoice sheet. As it stands, all that patients are seeing are service cutbacks, and all that hospitals are seeing is red.