Having observed the mainstream media with interest for the past 10 years or so, I have become aware that it generally has the attention span of a gnat. All a premier or highly seated politician needs to do is mention the word "election" and the media goes into reaction mode, running and twirling about at a frenetic pace trying to get the stories out and align their sources. Almost everything else of significance seems to fall by the wayside as the pursuit of power takes main stage.
Does it matter that the ball gets dropped on so many issues involving health care as the focus switches to power and politics? I think it does.
In Ontario, we have major long term care issues and hospital access being rationed more severely as dementia patients are moved out quickly to home rather than long term care despite the inability to have their needs met even with home care and loving family. We see a rise in interest in "end of life care" and euthanasia which may be timely "compassion" given the demographics but I suspect the interest is driven by an attempt to reduce health care spending rather than anything else.
In Ontario, Premier Wynne is out canvassing Ottawa South neighborhoods with the Provincial Liberal candidate in the next by-election. Meanwhile we have breathtaking news on deaths that could have been prevented had ORNGE not had the problems it had. We have the provincial ombudsman turning away 369 complaints related to systemic and individual problems in hospitals because only in Ontario are hospitals barred from ombudsman scrutiny. Apparently patient advocates are supposed to deal with this but they report to hospital management with no power to investigate or to report publicly.
There are health care and hospital issues that the public should be aware of but reporting them may not be in the best interests of Ontario politicians.
So what does this have to do with the Canada Health Transfer or the Canada Health Accord? Lots.
In the past two to three decades, the provinces looked to the federal government to solve their health care spending problems. They called on the Feds to pony up more and more cash to solve what what was a provincial denial of the demographic, economic and scientific shift taking place. The health care programs that provincial governments had created while the federal tap was open were no longer sustainable as the federal government grappled with its own financial house in a post 2008 Great Recession era. Even with one eye open, the provinces should have seen the demographic challenges coming but only the short term eye was open...the long term eye was fully closed and the mouth too as provincial political and health leaders only told the public what it wanted to hear.
An aging demographic, growing pharmaceutical use, advances in science and technology and surges of nasty new germs and drug resistant bacteria are upon us. In some magical thinking the provinces expected the federal government to keep sending more money to the provinces for their needs that should have been identified and dealt with over the past few decades. It's as though the provinces believe the feds have nothing else important to spend tax payers' dollars on. National security? Nah. Combatting terrorism? Nah. Cybersecurity? Nah. Immigration? Nah. Environmental issues? Nah. Economic stability? Nah.
It's not surprising then that the Canada Health Transfer payments will have a new funding formula as of 2014. Payments will be on a strict per capita basis beginning next year and in 2017-18, annual transfer payment increases will be linked to economic growth and not the 6% escalator since Paul Martin's "fix for a generation" in 2004. Paul Martin's fix didn't work including 41 billion tax payer dollars. Try something else.
It's not as though the federal government is discontinuing the transfers. It is continuing them, even increasing the amounts being sent to the provinces but to some critics this isn't enough. I am left to wonder if they want to bankrupt the nation and provinces to provide more and more health care that they are told Canadians "want" which given debt repayments will cost more and more ultimately delivering less and less.
Canadians need to understand this.
Premiers will be gathering for their Council of the Federation meeting in Niagra-on-the-Lake next week. Let's hope that each one of them can open both eyes and their mouths and utter some honesty about what it is going to take to address future health care needs. More provincial whining will not serve Ontarians or Canadians.
What do you suggest?