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Canadians warming to controversial medical user-fees, poll finds Add to ...

Canadians are worried about ballooning health spending, and nearly half would allow controversial measures such as doctor visitation user fees to curb costs, according to a new Ipsos-Reid poll.

The poll also found that two in three Canadians would be "willing to accept" a change to the nation's health-care system that would allow them to buy private health care insurance for treatment "in private facilities not funded by government tax dollars."

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Munk Debates taking place Monday night in Toronto, reveals that nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents say they believe a situation in which health-care costs account for 70 to 80 per cent of provincial budgets is "real and could occur."

"The Canadian public are very, very smart," said Canadian Medical Association president Anne Doig. "Canadians are completely aware of the fact that health-care costs are growing, and they're growing at a rate that is not fiscally sustainable."

Almost half (44 per cent) would be "willing to accept" a system, such as the one recently tabled in Quebec's 2010-11 budget, where a flat $25 fee is levied for each doctor visit in an attempt to deter overuse. Low-income patients would be exempt. Slightly more (56 per cent) opposed the system.

The controversy surrounding user fees is so heated that in April, Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff took the step of meeting with his caucus ahead of schedule to clarify his position - opposed - after some Liberals were concerned he hadn't denounced the plan strongly enough. Dr. Doig said the CMA does not support user fees.

The Munk Debates, which "seek to provide a lively and substantive forum for leading thinkers to debate the major issues facing the world and Canada," on Monday night argue the resolution "be it resolved that I would rather get sick in the United States than Canada." The panel features former Vermont governor Howard Dean and president of the University Health Network Robert Bell on the con side, and former U.S. Senate majority leader William Frist with physician David Gratzer arguing pro.

The Ipsos-Reid poll interviewed 1,019 adults online between May 31 and June 3. The results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With a report from Jane Taber

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