Sunday, November 27, 2011

Romanow fears 'patchwork-quilt Canada' health care

By Kevin Scanlon
Nov. 27 2011

Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow warns that pushing provinces to raise funds for their own health-care systems would create a "patchwork quilt Canada" of health coverage, with the have-not provinces losing out.

In the wake of a two-day meeting in Halifax this week that laid the groundwork for a new health accord, Romanow spoke to CTV's Question Period about the dangers of cutting back on federal funding.

"It would be the end of a national program of medicare," he said.

The Canada Health Transfer, created under the Liberals in 2004, expires in 2014. In this fiscal year, Ottawa will send $27 billion to the provinces for health care and that figure is expected to climb by six per cent annually.

When the national medicare program began in 1965, Ottawa paid half of the provinces' health care costs. But now, it covers less than a quarter of the costs.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning said the time for talking about the future of health care is over because today's model is fiscally broken.

"The current system can't be financed," the head of the conservative Manning Centre said.

"We need fundamental changes in how health care is organized. I'd like to see more flexibility … allow provinces to experiment with various systems."

Manning, who said the universality of health care could be maintained while experimenting with a blended system of public and private health care, pointed out that many European countries have already gone to mixed systems.

Romanow, who in 2001 headed a royal commission on the future of health care, said the public system is more efficient than a blend of public and private care. He cited the United States where health costs are 15 per cent of the gross domestic product, far below Canada where it is 10 per cent.

"The notion of private and public is a bit of a mistaken debate," he said. "The evidence is very, very clear that the core provision of health services is more effectively done through the public model."

The Halifax meeting of provincial and territorial health ministers with their federal counterpart Leona Aglukkaq was short on details when it concluded on Friday. But Aglukkaq did say any funding discussions would be left to the premiers when they meet with the prime minister early next year.

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