Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Setting the Record Straight is Only the First Step...

...The second is to see what the record actually tells us

With the public health care debate heating up in the United States, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is continuing to peddle horror stories about the Canadian health care system.

The horror story most frequently being peddled right now is the sad story of Shona Holmes, who was unable to procure treatment by Canadian cancer specialists and was forced to borrow $100,000 in order to obtain treatment at the United States' Mayo clinic for a brain tumour.

Aside from the fact that this case is fairly similar to thousands of cases in the United States, where individuals without health insurance are forced to burden themselves with gargantuan debts in order to receive treatment -- and in some cases, shady insurance companies simply refuse to abide by the terms of their contracts with their customers.

McConnell's peddling of this story -- and others -- has raised the ire of Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who has publicly defended Canada's health care system south of the border.

"The notion that we have some bureaucrat standing next to every doctor between the patient and that doctor is a complete creation, there is no truth to that at all," Hugh Segal told CNN. "What you have is a longer life span, better outcomes and about one-third less costs. That's what you have."

A Canadian also has superior access to health care. Once again, this is something that McConnell has failed to mention.

McConnell's comments, however, have sparked a vital debate on the role of the bureaucracy within health care.

The first thing that should be noted is that the United States wastes more money on health care bureaucracy than Canada does. this has been known since at least 2004.

But this doesn't mean that Canada's priorities regarding health care are actually in order.

When presented with the priority between providing front-line medical service -- the kind that Shona Holmes didn't receive -- and maintaining a bureaucracy to oversee the system, the priority is obvious: provision of front-line service is the purpose of the system, and it thus the priority.

Yet Canada's health care system provides no incentives for the reduction of overhead costs. Bureaucrats have no incentive to control the growth of a bureaucracy, and reduce the amount to which that bureaucracy eats away at overall funding.

Just because the Canadian health care system does a better job of controlling these costs than the American system doesn't mean that these costs aren't an obstacle to superior care.

Canadian conservatives should embrace the opportunity to defend Canadian health care against the attacks from south of the 49th parallel as an opportunity to have a debate about this topic, and the kind of reforms that could redirect vital funds from maintaining a bureaucracy toward proving front-end service.

That would go a long way toward preventing the Shona Holmses and the horror stories of tomorrow.

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