Few people have done more to raise the issue of medical wait times than Dr. Brian Day. Dr. Day and the Canadian Medical Association he heads are at it again.
This time they have released a study showing that long waits for medical care cost the Canadian economy $14.8 billion in 2007.
As well, the report shows that the federal and provincial governments failed to collect $4.4 billion in taxes because Canadians were waiting for health care. The economic value of this lost revenue is the equivalent of 40 per cent of Ontario's health budget, the report argues.
In addition, Dr. Day, speaking to the Economic Club of Toronto last week, said he has seen patients become increasingly ill, develop painkiller addictions and experience depression waiting for surgery.
"Forcing patients to endure pain and suffering in order to sustain a social program is wrong," the CMA chief said.
Dr. Day has been extraordinarily innovative in his suggestions to help the Canadian health-care system. He has proposed funding hospitals for the work they do rather than simply giving them a government funding envelope. That would create an incentive for getting wait times reduced and more procedures done.
The problems in the medical system go beyond waiting times. Dr. Day says 4,000 doctors across the country will be retiring in the next two years. They will be difficult to replace in a hard-pressed system. Already, nearly 4.5 million people don't have family doctors.
Dr. Day would create private, not-for-profit private medical schools to help eliminate the shortage of doctors, much like Ivy League schools in the United States. Thank goodness someone is thinking out there.
Poll after poll shows that Canadians have a rigid belief in the public health-care system. They tend to fidget when someone talks about private health-care. But these same Canadians should realize that between one-third to a half of this country's system is already private. And for people wary about private creep, most of Dr. Day's suggestions for improving health care occur within the current system.
However, that won't happen if Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty continues to promote a rigidly ideological -- and idealized -- vision of a public health care system that doesn't exist. It was embarrassing during the recent Ontario election to watch Mr. McGuinty dismiss reflexively any role for the private sector. Let's hope that was just populist pandering.
We need all of Canada's resources to alleviate our health crisis. We can't leave the private sector, the most productive part of our economy, out of this fight. Dr. Day and Mr. McGuinty need to have a productive conversation.