January 4, 2011
Canada's aging population has been called a "tsunami" that could eventually swamp our public health care system, but a health care expert says the true threat is an inability to adapt.
Dr. Michael Rachlis, a medical doctor and analyst, believes that aging and ailing baby boomers won't break the public purse in the coming years.
Indeed, much of his analysis is directed at calming skittish policy makers who fear that health costs and aging baby boomers are on a collision course.
"It's not a tsunami, even though it's been called that," he told CTV's Power Play from Toronto on Tuesday. "It's more like a glacier. And you don't get run over by a glacier unless you haven't moved."
Instead, Rachlis is an advocate for what Tommy Douglas called "Second Stage Medicare," which is essentially a patient-friendly system of health delivery focused on keeping people out of hospitals.
While some experts believe that health costs will rise to 70 or 80 per cent of provincial budgets in the next two decades, Rachlis believes that actual health spending has decreased.
He points to a recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information that suggests health spending has actually fallen over the past three years, since public expenditures have also sunk.
Accordingly, Canadian policy makers and officials shouldn't panic about crumbling health infrastructure, but should work to stretch the dollar as the population ages.
Think of it as acting strongly before illness strikes rather than reacting to patients' symptoms after the fact, said Rachlis.
"It's not the aging population that's the crisis, it's the inappropriate way that the health care system deals with everything that leads to those problems," he said.
In the past, Rachlis has assailed the referral system as antiquated, and he believes that Canadians wait far too long to see specialists.
Rachlis notes that specialized doctors should work much more closely with primary-care doctors and general practitioners. If they did, more Canadians would be spared hospital trips and costs would go down in the long run.
Last month, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty laid out a new plan for federal transfer payments, but some critics have said the spending schedule gives the provinces too much leeway in how transfer dollars are spent.
"It looked like the federal government was just throwing its arms up and saying, ‘We can't do anything with this, we're just going to leave it to the provinces,'" Rachlis said.
But a similar issue occurred during the previous Liberal government, and health dollars were used to pay doctors and nurses more money rather than to spur innovation, he added.
Though there is growing awareness about the effectiveness of preventative and community-based medicine, Rachlis said that governments still haven't been able to reform the system enough.
"We still have not found a way to engineer the politics to get us there."