Take $600-$800 million out, replace it with $270 million, and call it reform

The provincial election has been called.

The chances of any of the three parties having a real debate about health care is remote. When it comes to elections, talking about health care is akin to putting your head on the third rail to see if the train is coming and wondering why your brain is suddenly getting really hot.

The sad thing is, because the politicians don’t want to talk about it, we miss our opportunity to truly debate the kind of health system we want.

Why do we put up with this? Poll after poll Canadians (which we presume to include Ontarians) tell us that their number one concern is health care. So how come we are so docile when an election writ is dropped?

Remember the John Tory election meltdown? Who’d-a-thought religious school funding would have dominated that election? But that’s what happens when you don’t keep your eyes on the prize. You end up focussing on what the politicians want to talk about, not on what you want to talk about.

It’s tempting to say health care is more important than ever given we are in the middle of significant health reform. The question is, when were we ever not in significant health reform?

The McGuinty/Wynne governments have left their mark on our sector, and if there was some degree of clarity on policy anywhere within this government, it’s in health care. If you like the vision, vote for more. If you don’t, well you might want to go vote shopping.

We know that we’re entering completely new territory when the Sousa budget places hospitals into the third year of a funding freeze. Counting two years at 1.5 per cent, that would have been a grand total of 3 per cent more over five years. The mantra of this government has always been community good, hospitals bad.

What this prolonged austerity on hospitals will look like is even a mystery to the Ontario Hospital Association, which has been asking for something approaching an end state vision with a call for capacity targets. How few beds per capita are we aiming for? We only have Mexico and Chile to elbow out of the way before we can claim to have fewer beds than any other OECD country. Somebody said Turkey too.

Many people buy the “cut the hospitals and place everything in the community” argument, except when they have to wait a very long time to get service in a hospital. Or perhaps if they actually work in one, as many of our members do.

Ultimately, there are some things that you just can’t do in the confines of fortress home with an underpaid stressed out personal support worker sent out by a for-profit agency.

Hospitals take up about $20 billion of the $50 billion health budget. Depending on who you talk to, the freeze means a cut in real terms of between 3-4 per cent annually to hospitals. In dollar terms, that’s somewhere between $600 and $800 million.

How much new money was the budget willing to put into home care as an alternative? The answer is $270 million – or 5 per cent more than the year before. Worst still, the forecast is for even less growth in home care funding over the next two years.

You see the problem? Take $600-$800 million out, put $270 million back, and then call it reform.

Somebody might just want to talk about this.

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