Everyone realizes that health care is expensive. However, the actual figures for health care in this province will scare you. $1.25 million a day just to run the Health Sciences Centre in St John’s. Another $1.3 million daily to pay the 1,200 physicians who work in this province. Currently the health-care costs are higher than oil revenues.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest spending in health care per capita than any other province. We also have the highest rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes in the country. The province spends 50 per cent more than the national average on hospitals and 70 per cent more on long-term care homes. To make matters worse the province is also aging faster than any other province which means the demand for this these services is not likely to go down.
It is not as simples as laying off people or closing facilities to cut costs. The biggest challenge lies with the politics. The current system of four-year government term typically results in the incoming party cutting costs in the first half, while blaming the other side, only to go on a spending spree to an attempt to be re-elected.
If governments make necessary tough decisions, the electorate will likely vote them out. So, to remain in power, they will make minor tweaks or brush the problem under the rug for the next party to deal with. The kind of decisions that need to be made to set health care on a right track cannot be fixed within a four, eight or even 12 years. Long term strategies must be developed that looks at everything from current to future needs.
The health-care crisis has the potential to bankrupt this province if something is not done soon. Health care needs politics removed from the equation.
How do you take the politics out of a system that costs this province 12.3 per cent of the entire budget? It is not going to be easy and will require a major effort from everyone.
An independent agency should be established to run our health-care system. Clearly, the money will have to come from government however the decisions on day-to-day operations and long-term plans need to be established free of political interference.
Tough decisions like centralizing services could be made without the fear of political backlash. This would result in decisions be made for the greater good rather than trying to please every political area.
This might seem like radical thinking, but if something drastic is not done soon the entire system could crash.
Some people might not like this approach but the alternative is much worse and we must choose a direction while we still can.
Jamie Warren is a native of Pasadena who lives and works in St. John’s. He is a member of The Western Star's Community Editorial Board