With an aging population and spiralling health-care costs, Canada’s premiers are wise to begin looking for innovation and change in this sector, rather than wait for the money to run out. The proposals unveiled Thursday at their annual meeting are really just the start of what will be needed.
Canada ranks higher than most other countries in health spending, and while federal transfers will continue to grow by 6 per cent annually until 2016-17, they will thereafter be tied to the rate of economic growth.
The premiers’ long-awaited health-care report, jointly authored by Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall and Prince Edward Island’s Robert Ghiz, outlines several helpful measures to save money. Among them are identifying three to five generic drugs that provinces can purchase in bulk by this fall; harmonizing guidelines for the treatment of chronic illnesses; and sharing training capacity and work force projections, so they’re not stealing nurses or doctors from each other.
But with health spending accounting for an ever-growing share of their budgets, the provinces also need to establish whether they are getting value for money before the system becomes unsustainable.
The premiers are right to focus on prevention and clinical care standards. Major chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, account for $93-billion in annual spending. Lifestyle changes, including exercise, better nutrition and smoking cessation, could significantly lower that bill. For example, as many as 85 per cent of all foot amputations from diabetes could be avoided through better education, monitoring and early treatment – a potentially huge savings.
As Ottawa has made abundantly clear, health-care reform is not a federal responsibility. Having unanimously endorsed the report, the premiers should act quickly on its many recommendations while recognizing that innovation cannot be a one-off.