Canadian health system too expensive: report

Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:59pm EST
 
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By Claire Sibonney

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's public healthcare system is becoming too expensive but could offer better value without drastic cuts or abandoning its state-funded structure, one of the country's most influential economists said on Thursday.

Changes needed include more treatment of patients outside of hospitals - through family doctors and home care, for example - and by offering more private services paid for by the public purse, said Don Drummond, a former Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist and federal finance official.

Drummond, who has been hired by the Ontario government to advise it on program spending, said in a report that politically "palatable" options are needed to tackle the threat of ballooning health care costs.

"If healthcare spending keeps the provinces' backs to the fiscal cliff, they might once again lash out with spending cuts, as they did in the 1990s," Drummond warned in the report for the market-friendly C.D. Howe Institute, a public-policy thinktank.

"But a lesson should be learned from that episode: little was really solved ... the experience left the public even more leery of moves to save money or raise efficiency."

Healthcare in Canada is delivered through a publicly funded system that covers all "medically necessary" hospital and physician care, as well as prescription drugs for seniors, and curbs the role of private medicine.

While the system has widespread public and political support, costs have soared well above the rate of inflation and are expected to climb further as the baby-boom generation ages.

Drummond said other ways to save money include allowing nurses and physicians' assistants to perform some tasks done by doctors and enabling pharmacists to write basic prescriptions.   Continued...