Tag Archives: Ontario

NDP says they’ll scrap $45 ambulance fee

The Ontario NDP say they would scrap the $45 fee paid by patients for ambulance services.

Leader Andrea Horwath said patients shouldn’t have to think twice about dialing 911 during an emergency.

More than two-thirds ofOntario’s ambulance trips require a user co-pay of $45. Ontario Works recipients, long term care home residents, individuals with disabilities or who are receiving home care are presently exempt from paying the fee.

Horwath says her own mother has thought twice about calling for a ride when she needed one.

“We have an aging population, there’s more and more seniors who are going to be in need of that kind of service,” she told the Canadian Press. “I think it’s something that’s going to take a load off their mind.”

The NDP say scrapping the fees will cost $30 million per year, something Dalton McGuinty has already dismissed, saying families have other health care priorities.

Prince Edward Island removed the fee in 2009 and New Brunswick is in the process of removing their ambulance charges.

Jamie Ramage, Chair of OPSEU’s ambulance sector, says he supports the idea, noting the $45 fee means the most marginalized individuals may be reluctant to call when they need assistance.

The NDP plan to reveal their full election platform June 24. Ontarians go the polls October 6.

Provincial Tories to keep health tax after all

The provincial health tax will remain in place if Tim Hudak’s Tories win the October 6, 2011 election.

The Toronto Star reports a “source” confirmed the tax would stay despite earlier promises to the contrary.

In February Hudak issued a press release calling Health Minister Deb Matthews a liar for suggesting to a group of visiting nurses the Tories would cut both the tax and the provincial health budget.

Four days after the press release, Hudak reversed himself again suggesting that everything was on the table, including the health tax.

Cutting the health tax would take $3 billion out of provincial revenues that contribute to the $47 billion health budget.

Hudak is expected to reveal his campaign platform at this weekend’s PC convention in Niagara Falls.

Liberal think tank salutes Harris era health care cuts

The McGuinty government established the Mowat Centre in 2010 with $5 million in seed money, but they may want to ask for their money back after Will Falk’s op/ed last weekend in the Toronto Star. Falk, an “executive researcher in residence” at the Mowat, suggests Mike Harris got it right when he restrained funding for health care, leading to hospital closures, reductions in beds, compensation restraint and cuts to medical school spaces. He even appears to commend Bob Rae for starting it off with his Rae Days (ignoring the fact that it ended up costing hospitals more to pay for overtime to cover the missing ‘Rae Days’ personnel).

Quick to cast off the perception that such ideas may paint him as a neo-Con, Falk points out that straight-line Malthusian projections of gloom and doom seldom work out that way. He indicates that studies by the Fraser Institute and the C.D.Howe ignore the level of growth in health care spending the previous decade averaged 0.9 per cent and represented real declines when compared to the size of the economy.

He might have added that Don Drummond, the McGuinty government poster boy for change, also uses such deceiving straight-line projections.

Falk argues that rising health care costs are a self-fulfilling prophecy – that if you provide increases of six per cent per year, health care will spend six per cent per year. He says Canadians need government to bend the cost curve, not fund it.

To be fair, Falk is not advocating more of the same – the obvious end game of such activity would be a demolished health system. You can’t cut beds forever – especially when hospitals are already functioning at capacity. Nor can you expect professionals to continue working without a raise. He instead makes the vague suggestion that technology and IT will save us. Give him points for audacity, but it doesn’t seem to be grounded in evidence.

If you stop funding health care, there is no question that we could be over the tipping point long before technology comes riding in on a shining white horse to save us all.

Falk may think we’re beyond the need for such cuts, but starving the health care system could start us down the same draconian path again.

Even Don Drummond acknowledges that the slash and burn approach by the Harris Tories took some time to recover from – and may account for some of the spending in the ensuing years. When it comes to deferring health care costs, it’s a safe bet that those costs will be much higher at a later date.

Falk, like the Chicken Littles he criticizes, doesn’t make the distinction between public spending and total spending.

The charts accompanying his article appear to lack the most recent health spending data which shows spending already in decline relative to the size of our economy. By ignoring 2010 it looks like health spending took a sharp turn upwards as a percentage of our economy. In fact, it was a shrinking economy, not an upswing in health care costs that bent the curve upwards.

His expenditure chart has no adjustment for inflation. Any expenditure will look like a straight-line upward without adjustment. The notion that better management of health care could take us back to the days of national spending of $400 per capita is silly.

By extending his graphs over 35 years it also makes it difficult to notice that as a percentage of our overall economy, spending has been relatively static in this last decade of supposedly runaway spending.

Then again, if we simply recognized that, this whole new industry of scaring the wits out of Canadians would lose much of its mojo.

Lack of civility as opinions differ

This week OHA CEO Tom Closson wrote to a number of groups opposing the recent “hospital secrecy law” (Schedule 15 of Bill 173) that will allow the Ontario Hospitals to shield specific quality information from the public.

Given Schedule 15 had alredy been amended — presumably to the OHA’s approval — it is questionable as to the purpose of Closson’s sudden enthusiasm for letter writing. The actual amendment passed at the legislature’s finance and economic affairs committee Thursday morning.

What is most surprising from Closson’s letter-writing is his accusations that public interest groups were attempting to “grossly mislead” the public about the meaning of the Bill. The letters, all posted the OHA’s website, manage to insult the community organizations in a way we haven’t quite seen before.

He says Cybil Sack (Impatient4Change) “took significant liberties with the facts…while also making derogatory comments about hospitals, their leaders, and the professionals who work in them.” He further writes “it is apparent from your note that you believe the people who work in hospitals spend their days devising new ways to stifle public debate.”

To many of the organizations – including the Ontario Health Coalition, the Registered Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union, he says he is writing to “rebut the grossly inaccurate claims.” He finishes all the letters with “on an issue as important as Ontarians’ health and safety, the “facts optional” approach your organization has taken to date is simply irresponsible. Ontarians deserve better.”

If these submissions were full of factual errors and misleading commentary, one might understand. Closson’s rebuttals fail to point out much in the way of factual error, but instead revisits the OHA’s original argumentation around the need for the schedule and takes issue with some of the intervenor’s interpretation of the role of the Quality of Care Information Act.

To suggest on this basis that anybody is trying to “grossly mislead” is a bit much. It also calls into question the OHA’s attitude towards public engagement.

By any interpretation, the government has opened the door to hospital transparency, and closed it to a degree with this amendment to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation. That’s a fact.

Closson is not the only one getting in on the act of incivility.

Georgina Thompson, Chair of the South East LHIN, recently told the media that prior to the LHIN’s recent Road Map plan, hospitals “talked to each other but they didn’t play together in the sandbox well.”

We could be wrong, but some hospitals may take umbrage to their characterization as children who got straightened out by the LHIN.

It’s been a long cold and wet spring. Here’s hoping that with a bit of better weather we can all go back to debating health care policy without this kind of nasty rancour.

Oh, and Tom – no need to reply.