CRAIG: More debate on healthcare could only help

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Retired Ontario nurse Judy Anderson recently lost her second daughter to long wait lists in the health care system. And like the first time, she got a call from the hospital about planning a treatment. after her daughter was deceased.

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In Alberta, patients Tracy Skinner and Jackie Herrera were unable to get the treatment needed to treat their chronic pain. Patients traveled to Mexico and Germany respectively to get the care they needed. To be clear, Tracy and Jackie are middle class Canadians who have had to spend thousands of dollars on treatment – on top of the small fortune they pay in taxes for health care each year.

Stories about the suffering of patients are all too common in Canada. Yet at the same time, our nation has a rich tradition of doing very little about it.

In every federal election, politicians promise more funding for health care. Spending inevitably increases after the election, but the problems persist. This has been going on for decades; no one ever seems to take into account that our system is in need of real health care reform. Throwing more taxpayer money into the status quo doesn’t change anything.

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A recent exchange between political parties suggests that this election could be slightly different.

Prime Minister Trudeau recently condemned Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole for supporting Saskatchewan’s unique approach to MRI scans. The Prairie Province allows private clinics to sell such scans to the public. But whenever a scan is provided to a paying client, the clinic must also provide a scan for free to someone in the public system.

Since 2016, these clinics have provided more than 20,000 scans, half of which went to patients on government waiting lists. Without this policy, government MRI scanners would have had to provide 20,000 additional exams. To put it into perspective, imagine an NHL-sized arena full of people added to government waiting lists.

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The two-day exchange between party leaders on this topic was the most important debate we have seen on health care reform at the federal level in an election in decades.

What the public should know is that Saskatchewan’s MRI policy is a step in the right direction.

Countries with better universal health systems than Canada all allow patients to choose between using the public health system or paying out of pocket at non-government facilities. Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, the list goes on.

Rather, governments should encourage more non-government clinics (not-for-profit and for-profit) to open in Canada and provide services to the public.

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Such clinics offer more choice to patients and take the pressure off the public system. In addition, a greater number of actors involved leads to competition, innovation and lower costs.

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Imagine if Tracy, Jackie and the thousands of other Canadians who went overseas for health care could have received treatment in private clinics in Canada. This could have saved patients money on travel costs while helping to create jobs in Canada. Receiving services locally could also have helped reduce emissions.

Of course, just allowing more non-government health care providers to open up and provide services to the public will not solve all the problems in our system, but it is a step in the right direction.

For the sake of the patients and families who have suffered, we deserve a more rigorous debate on healthcare reform this election.

Colin Craig is the president of SecondStreet.org, a Canadian think tank. You can follow him on Twitter (@ colincraig1) or email him at [email protected]

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