Deb – enough with the scary nonsense

It is very unlikely that Deb Matthews personally wrote the letter sent to a member of the Quinte Labour Council about local hospital funding. She did sign it, which suggests she may have actually read it. Maybe.

The letter has been circulating recently, serving to raise more ire than balm.

There it was again – the claim that “without change of course, health spending would eat up 70 per cent of the provincial budget within 12 years.”

If you really want to scare people, try suggesting alien spaceships will land in Nathan Phillips Square disembarking a robot army that will change life forever. The two scenarios, the 70 per cent and the robot army are about equally likely. At least in the latter scenario we would be rid of Rob Ford.

Perhaps Matthews should tell her letter-writing minions to cool it on the rhetoric about how health care is about to consume huge portions of the provincial budget if not for their heroic efforts to reform the system. It’s getting old and most sensible people know by now that it is simply not true.

The reality is health care spending in Canada has been relatively stable for more than a decade. Through the 2000s we showed more restraint than almost every other country in the 34-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Matthews may be suggesting that funding increases for health care had been previously unsustainable, but in fact the provincial government had eliminated the inherited Tory deficit, cut corporate taxes, reinvested in health care, and ran balanced budgets for three consecutive years. That sounds pretty sustainable to us.

Then 2008 happened.

That’s when capitalism nearly went down the drain hole after financial deregulation left bankers essentially in charge of the world economy. Whoops.

The economic crash had nothing to do with public sector spending, contrary to the never-ending attempts by corporations and the wealthy to shift the blame. The crash did adversely affect government revenues.

Matthews says in the Quinte letter that health care “consumes” 42 cents of every (provincial) tax dollar. She neglects to say that it used to be 46 cents. We all remember the media rounding it off to half the provincial budget.

It’s really hard to reach 70 cents on the dollar if you are actually reducing the percentage of the budget spent on health care year over year.

Matthews says health care funding is increasing by 2.3 per cent this year, but last year the province left $560 million of that budget unspent. If they do the same again this year, the real increase will be closer to one per cent.

Matthews also boasts that hospitals have shifted to patient centered funding. That would be partly true – there has been a shift to more fee-for-service funding and the new funding formula is supposed to take into account population demographics. For hospitals in more rural areas, such as Quinte Healthcare,  the new funding formula has meant actual reductions in base funding. They just don’t have the volumes of their big city counterparts. Quinte is expected to lose $10-$15 million annually under the new scheme. Deb — if your attempt was to win over new friends, you should have left that bit out of the letter.

The reality is patients are experiencing the effects of austerity on health care through longer waits to access care, overcrowded hospitals, increased privatization and fewer points of access. Some reforms may be overdue, but they aren’t making up for the shortfall created by austerity funding.

While polls have indicated most Ontarians would rather pay more in taxes to maintain if not improve health care, that’s not the decision the McGuinty/Wynne government made.

That’s a pity, because most studies show that health care is not only good for population health, but it’s good for the economy too.

As Minister of Health, Deb Matthews must understand that health care costs are actually declining as a share of the provincial budget. When you try to scare somebody with something that’s not actually true, it gets people to start asking some harder questions about your motivation.

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