NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Can Canada's Health System Be Saved?

February 15, 2000

Medicare -- Canada's health insurance system -- is in crisis, a fact which the public and health workers are acutely aware of as a result of emergency room overcrowding, shortages of nurses and doctors and complaints by doctors of overwork. According to the latest poll, eight in 10 Canadians believe the system is in crisis, and only one in four rates it highly.

Federal health minister Allan Rock has proposed to save the country's health care system by paying half the cost of a national home care program; but provincial premiers say that he should restore billions of dollars of funding cuts to the health system before introducing such "boutique" programs.

  • Meeting in Quebec city, the premiers agreed that the system needed fundamental reform but that without more money it would collapse.
  • They want restoration of the Canada Health and Social Transfer Payments to 1994-5 levels, when Ottawa assumed 17 percent of total health care costs.
  • This would add $C6.3 billion (£2.7 billion; $4.38 billion) to the present spending level, according to the premiers, but Prime Minister Jean Chrétien says the transfers have already been restored to the 1993-4 level.

"Home care is fundamental to saving Medicare," says Rock. Home care budgets amount to only four percent of public spending on health care in Canada, but a recent study found that about $C8,000 a year per patient could be saved if frail elderly people could be cared for at home instead of in nursing homes.

Source: David Spurgeon, "Canada Faces Health Care Crisis," British Medical Journal, February 12, 2000.


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