Thursday, March 16, 2006

Healthcare under attack

I live in an Oil Shiekdom called Calgary, Alberta. Basically it's Canada's version of Houston.

Our leaders rake in the cash from the oil boom - but give back generously. Alberta charges some of the lowest resource royalty rates around so the oil company's keep more of record oil profits here in Alberta than almost anywhere in the world. On top of this the Alberta government gave over 100 million dollars in financial aid to the oil industry last year.

Hopefully with this help their suffering was eased.

At the same time our Premier the honorable Ralph Klein continues his descent into insanity while busily keeping his promises to the insurance industry to let them fall on our public healthcare system like hungry wolves.

The stated goal of Klein's healthcare Third Way 'reforms' is reducing wait times. When asked how allowing doctors to take time away from the public system to work in a parallel private system where the rich get better, faster treatment would reduce waiting times he couldn't answer.

The answer, of course is that it doesn't. There's only so many doctors around, allowing them to take time away from the public system would of course increase wait times. Additionally the Australian experience with parallel public/private healthcare systems created what studies called a 'perverse incentive' to doctors to increase wait times to benefit their more lucrative private practice.

The Alberta government points to spiraling costs to justify their dismantling plans that suggest that healthcare would soon become the majority of the provincial budget. These are deceptive numbers as they generally only go back the last ten years, a rebuilding period. If you average healthcare spending over twenty years and factor in the drastic and irresponsible cut-backs of the early 90's you get a much smaller growth curve. If you calculate healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP, a much more useful measurement, you get something closer to a flat line.

Additionally, the public system allows for economies of scale and and linear bureaucracy where in a private healthcare system, costs and red tape multiply at every level. The Canadian healthcare system costs less per capita than the U.S. non-system and has drastically less bureaucracy.

In a study of public and private healthcare in the United States, private hospitals were found to have higher mortality rates than public facilities.

National economies with public healthcare consistently out-perform countries without comprehensive public healthcare. The savings in real costs, reduced corporate expenses and the increased productivity that come from a healthy workforce who aren't buried in medical debt, overpower economies without public healthcare.

The call by Canadian elites for a healthcare debate is disingenuous. Endless studies, commissions and reports have been done. With the exceptions of studies run by the insurance companies - another Alberta innovation - the results have been remarkably unanimous. The debate's over and the facts are in.

There are only two advantages to privatizing healthcare. The rich can pay for better, faster service and several of these rich people, particularly those who own insurance companies will get much, much richer.

If you live in Canada, or better yet Alberta, here's how to contact our leaders and let them know what we think of this attempt to dismantle public healthcare.

Premier Ralph Klein

Health Minister Iris Evans

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