Squabble over health care funding an obscenity

Saskatchewan first pioneered public health care, now it’s B.C.’s turn, writes André Carrel.

Columnist André Carrel (File photo)

Columnist André Carrel (File photo)

By André Carrel

We have decided that inflation at two per cent is a judicious and rational objective for the nation’s economy. There is nothing divine about that two per cent target, and yet, no first minister – federal or provincial – and no political party advocates a higher or lower rate of inflation. We have made a categorical imperative decision to hold inflation at two per cent, granting it the status of a comprehensive public policy target.

We may disagree on how we pursue the two per cent inflation target, but there is no disagreement on the goal we have set for ourselves. The cost to individuals; rising interest rates, rent increases, unemployment, and business failures, can be devastating, but for the benefit of society over the long term, we deal with it. In the words of philosopher Immanuel Kant, “what is essentially good in the action consists in the mental disposition; let the consequences be what they may.”

We have made a categorical decision to make the rate of inflation our decisive economic policy objective. Why do we not aim for a categorical decision to determine our health care policies? Judging by our categorical decision experience in economic policy, it is evident that we are capable of making categorical policy decisions to serve the long-term well-being of our communities. We can, if we set our minds to it, pursue a categorical decision on health care objectives. I know nothing about health care; could the number of general practitioners and hospital beds per 10,000 population be a pertinent objective? Could the number of nurses per hospital bed be?

The sight of federal and provincial first ministers haggling over billions of dollars is unseemly. Arguments over dollars in health care are about as productive as are arguments over degrees Celsius in cooking or inches in construction. Dollars are units of measurement, relevant only after we have agreed on what it is we want to accomplish. What reduces the federal-provincial squabble over health care funding to an obscenity is that the issue is the care of our citizens’ health, not the identity of the payer.

Citizens pay taxes on their earnings, their purchases and their assets. The questions tormenting citizens are not concerned with what government should pay for the family doctor we cannot get, or for the emergency department whose doors are locked. The burning question is a categorical one; it concerns health care standards and objectives. We know who pays in the end. It is not governments who pay, we do!

We need a measurable standard for our publicly funded health care. However, we do not need to wait for the nation’s first ministers to agree on what that standard should be. What is important is that the standard be measurable, just as the inflation standard in our economy is measurable.

Saskatchewan pioneered publicly funded health care sixty years ago. B.C. can pioneer and implement health care service standards, measurable objectives, defined by whatever criteria health professionals consider to make sense re the care of our citizens’ health. What we have done with help from professionals for the health of our economy, we can, with help from professionals, do for our physical and mental health. Discussions and debates about how we are going to to pay for it all will be more productive once we know and can measure what it is that we want to achieve.

ColumnHealthcareNDP Leadership

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