It’s time for innovation in health care

Most of us have lived with private and public broadcasting for decades. We have a choice when it comes to education. Not everyone can afford to send their kids to exclusive private schools, but those who can and see the value, do. And many people make small sacrifices to send their children to institutions that are attached to religious orders and don’t cost nearly what the expensive schools do.

We go to dentists, physiotherapists and chiropractors from time to time. It would be nice if the Medical Services Plan paid for those things, but it doesn’t. Those fortunate enough to have company or union benefits plans get some financial help, but the delivery of these health-care services is private, and it works just fine. We have public automobile insurance, but we have the option of buying extra private insurance. In fact, the ICBC model may be the closest reflection of what the future of health care looks like: the government provides the bulk of the cost of coverage (although we still complain about our premiums) and we can pay for extra if we decide it’s worth the money.
The people who argue for maintaining the status quo in health care insist there should be no profit around the provision of medical and health-care services. But there are some interesting facts if you dig deeper. Among those who make that argument are the nurses who said if they didn’t start earning bigger paycheques, they’d pack up and move to Alberta or the U.S. Yes, the union that argues long and hard to preserve as much public care as possible was out there threatening to withdraw services or move to another country if we didn’t kick in more money for its members.

Most people who read this magazine work in an organization that operates in the private sector. I suspect most of you feel competition helps to create efficiencies, and the same rule can be applied to the health-care debate. I’m not arguing for total private health care; I just don’t understand the rationale that sees people in the health-care lobby set their hair on fire at the thought of a highly regulated private hospital with qualified staff. The people who work there would have to have the same qualifications as those who work in the public health-care facilities.

One argument I hear is the private system would simply pay more and steal the top talent. Why would private health-care facilities attract the best and the brightest from the public sector, if the public system is so terrific?

I’ve always thought there would be benefits for health-care workers in a system that offered both private and public health care. Like patients, they would have some choice about where they worked. I’m told the working conditions in the private hospitals we have now are very nice. I wonder how many nurses at the Cambie Street surgical centre are clamouring to go back to shifts at Vancouver General Hospital, for example?

The whole notion that the public sector is the be-all and end-all in health care seems to me to be a power struggle by existing interest groups to control how government money is spent. And certainly, that amount of money keeps growing. Case in point: no one has explained how we are going to pay for the health care of aging baby boomers if we don’t try some innovations.

You’ve also read in this issue about the growth of the luxury retirement home market in B.C., a trend that should take few by surprise. It’s the simple law of supply and
demand. If they have the cash, who would stand for being told they had to go into a government-subsidized old-age home because private options were not allowed? Can you imagine working all your life and saving enough money to have some comfort only to be told, “Sorry, the government has a monopoly on that.”

We have a responsibility to provide a high level of medical care for everyone. As taxpayers, we should fund it. A government insurance body similar to ICBC could do it. There’s a lot more rhetoric than logic in the way we talk about something we all hope we’ll never need, such as health care and long-term care, but we desperately want to know will be there if we need it. Could we cool the rhetoric and try some new things? It’s called innovation.