Camels dancing on the head of the Medicare budget

To nobody’s surprise, the Alberta NDP government’s first budget and its Speech from the Throne contained the obligatory paeans to publicly funded health care, i.e., Medicare.

“I want to be clear,” Finance Minister Joe Ceci declared April 14. “Public health care is a sacred trust shared by every Albertan. And this government is absolutely determined to protect it today and for future generations.”

In doing so, he echoed the March 8 Speech from the Throne when the government promised to “protect health care” and “build a society that provides … world-class health.”

One thing is transparently clear: these words will rung hollow if the Alberta government remains ideologically rigid and hidebound in its adherence to the current Medicare model that was created 75 years ago. As for the rallying cry of “finding efficiencies,” it’s a punch line for comedians and not a solution for rationing and wait times.

Bill Gates and Stephen Jobs didn’t set out to build a better typewriter by finding efficiencies. And, they did have the advantage of not dealing with a publicly funded, government-run typewriter monopoly.

How the Alberta government intends to fulfill its promise of world-class health care is not known at this time. Perhaps we will know more after the review of Alberta Health’s spending estimates and from future statements and announcements by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Her job will not be easy. For example, only a few hours before Mr. Ceci spoke the page 1 headline in the Edmonton Journal was “Albertans face long waiting times for cancer surgery, report says.” The first paragraph: “Albertans needing surgery to treat colorectal, breast and other common forms of cancer face lengthening delays that rank among the worst in the country, new statistics show.”

The finance minister may have, however, taken a tottering baby step towards sustainability of Medicare — that is, if you disregard the $10.4 billion the government will borrow this year for its total budget and the $50 billion debt it projects to accumulate before the budget is balanced in 2024.

Still, to give him his due, the budget would appear to recognize that sustainability of the publicly funded health-care system must be a priority by limiting its operating budget to 3% increases each year for the next three years.

This compares to “an average of 6%, each and every year,” under the previous PC government, said Mr. Ceci. “We are making good progress, but to secure public health care we have to keep at it.”

The NDP calculates health care spending at 40% of its operational budget, a significant drop from the 45% commonly accepted when the PCs were the government. Health care economists, among others, will undoubtedly be scouring the numbers to determine how many camels really can dance on the head of the Medicare budget of $20.4 billion [which does not include debt servicing costs].











Canada’s government-run health care system – Medicare -- is a monopoly that prohibits private hospital and private physician care. Medicare is a subpar performer, ranking 10th among 11 advanced countries. Canadians deserve much better! Patients deserve timely access to quality care and choice of hospitals and physicians. Taxpayers deserve much more value for their tax dollars.

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