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GOLDSTEIN: Health care is broken and our governments broke it

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Can Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s 13 Premiers and Territorial Leaders fix our healthcare system, which has been ravaged for decades by federal and provincial governments of all political persuasions?

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Obviously, not everything can be done at once when they gather in Ottawa on February 7 to set the stage for an agreement in which the federal government will provide funding to the provinces and territories in exchange for terms on that funding, which they will face need to agree, will increase individually.

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The problems go back decades. It will take years to repair.

The question is whether today’s agreements will point Canada’s healthcare system in the right direction with effective reforms.

Politicians going back decades have been responsible for creating the myth that Canada’s healthcare system is free, publicly funded, and the best in the world.

In reality, our system is expensive compared to other countries around the world with comparable universal healthcare systems.

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30 percent of our healthcare is privately funded.

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While there are many positive examples of excellent healthcare internationally – in spite of rather than because of the current system – Canada’s overall medical outcomes are mediocre compared to similar countries.

In a system with too few frontline healthcare providers and inadequate operating rooms and equipment like MRIs, Canadians face some of the longest medical wait times for treatment in the developed world.

Canada’s shortage of doctors is due to provincial governments’ deliberate policy since the 1990s, when Ottawa cut provincial transfers to balance then-out-of-control federal budgets.

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The theory – advocated by so-called health economists in Canada’s overly bureaucratic health care system – was that fewer doctors would graduate by cutting public funding for medical schools, which would mean lower costs because there would be fewer doctors treating patients and order tests.

Instead, the number of Canadians without a family doctor has skyrocketed.

This led to higher costs, because without family doctors, patients with both minor and more serious health problems end up in hospital emergency departments – where their treatment is much more expensive.

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While we don’t have enough GPs or nurses — many have burned out from the COVID-19 pandemic — we do have an abundance of highly paid, empire-building government health bureaucrats who are constantly creating new forms for doctors to fill out. Reducing the time they spend caring for patients.

The data exchange of health information often borders on the absurd.

At the height of the pandemic, governments were in many cases collecting and exchanging information by fax and had apparently missed the computer age.

Transferring patients’ medical histories from paper to electronic records was tedious and expensive, with governments leading the process repeatedly wasting time and money through incompetence.

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Overcrowded emergency rooms and hallway medicine were created by years of provincial governments not making enough long-term and long-term care beds, meaning people ended up in acute care hospitals because there was nowhere else to go.

It doesn’t help when fear-mongering defenders of the fractured health-care status quo present attempts at reform as creating an American-style, two-tier health care system that no one who understands the problems is talking about.

Let’s all hope for some significant breakthroughs on these issues in the most recent round of federal-state-territory negotiations.

But don’t hold your breath.

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