Health care is in trouble, but Kevin Falcon has no answers

Canada spends less per capita on hospital care than any of the top seven OECD countries, hardly a record to be proud of.

Kevin Falcon’s BC United Party has decided to make the health-care crisis a central focus of its election platform.

Hence, during last month’s legislative session Falcon attacked health minister Adrian Dix over his plan to send cancer patients to Bellingham, Wash. for treatment.

Since May 29 when the scheme began, 310 patients have gone south of the border for radiation treatment.

Falcon has a point. For many years, B.C. had the foremost cancer treatment program in Canada, and one of the best in North America.

Regrettably, those days are gone. And much of the decline came to a head during the current NDP government’s six years in office.

So yes, Health Minister Adrian Dix has to accept his share of the responsibility for that. He’s now the longest-serving health minister in B.C. since the ministry was created in 1973.

As the saying goes, if it happens on your watch, you own it.

Yet there’s more to this story than that. The crisis in health care may have peaked under Dix and his government, but the roots go further back.

Before the NDP took office in 2017, the B.C. Liberal Party, now renamed BC United, held office for 16 straight years.

And during those years, the health ministry was starved.

Specifically, between 2001 when Gordon Campbell was elected, and 2017 when his successor Christy Clark left office, the health ministry’s budget declined a full six per cent, after general inflation and population growth are factored in.

Indeed, the starvation diet was arguably more severe than that.

Inflation rates in health care are reliably two or three points higher than general inflation, and the aging of the population is worth an additional point a year.

Include these realities in the calculation, and the health care budget under the Liberals took a hammering.

It was here, under the party Falcon now leads, that one of the major causes of the health care crisis can be found.

Of course, there were other factors. The federal government has reneged on its promise to fund 50 per cent of the cost of Medicare.

That has resulted in Canada spending less per capita on hospital care than any of the top seven OECD countries, hardly a record to be proud of. That certainly added to the crisis.

And, of course, the COVID epidemic made things worse.

However we can carry this discussion several steps further. What measures are Falcon’s BC United proposing to alleviate the health care crisis?

Leaving aside steps Dix has already taken, like increasing doctors’ fees and accelerating the accreditation process for foreign trained physicians, there are only two noteworthy suggestions.

Falcon wants to see a reduction in redundant paperwork — a frequent complaint of physicians — and cuts in the “harmful NDP taxation and payroll policies.”

Yet in neither case does he provide details.

Take reducing paperwork. Depending on circumstances, family doctors may have to fill in any one of a dozen separate forms, often at home after work.

Yet these are essential: They include referrals to a specialist, permission to prescribe certain high-cost drugs, reviews of lab results, etc. So which would Falcon do away with? He doesn’t say.

Moreover, in a recent deal worked out between the ministry and Doctors of BC, family physicians are now paid an hourly rate for paperwork that previously went unpaid.

Some 4,000 family doctors get this additional compensation, on top of the fee increase they’ve already received.

As to Falcon’s second suggestion, that “harmful NDP taxation and payroll policies” should be cut, he needs to say what alternative scheme he has in mind.

The BC United party leader has called repeatedly for Dix to resign. Given his party’s record when in power, voters might wonder whether Falcon should join him.


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