Calgary Herald

Soaring health-care costs bending the province out of shape

But simply throwing more tax dollars at the problem is getting us nowhere

- CHRIS NELSON Chris Nelson is a Calgary writer.

Bending the curve is the catchy mantra our health-care honchos have attached themselves to, though, for the rest of us Albertans, boggling the mind seems more appropriat­e.

In the relentless merry-goround atop Alberta’s Health Services, a somewhat unstable place that’s seen six CEOs depart in eight years, perhaps our government could find some modern-day Alice to take this Wonderland job, because we’re truly on the other side of the looking glass.

This bending blather captures the giddy hope we can slow relentless­ly increasing healthcare costs before hitting the point where no one on Earth will lend Albertans any more money.

Yet, to actually believe such bending will occur takes a leap of faith of Uri Geller proportion­s.

Look at the swift and sure reaction to the recent budget, in which we passed the $20-billiona-year mark in health spending.

Not bad for a province of about four million souls.

Once Treasurer Clueless Joe thankfully sat down after finally admitting we’ll be borrowing billions each year so far into the future that a Canadian hockey team might win the Stanley Cup before we balance our books, the puck was passed to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

“If we had a freeze, we’d be looking at having to lay off staff. And we need to reduce wait times, and, if you cut access for MRIs, CT scans and cancer surgeries, it would do the opposite,” was her take on why another $500 million-plus will be spent in the next financial year.

To mix the sporting metaphors, on deck, scalpel steadfastl­y in hand, was the Alberta Medical Associatio­n.

Citing a lower-than-expected increase in the doctor allocation, the outfit’s head honcho said it was hard to imagine how it wouldn’t reduce service.

“We’re onside with the idea of bending the cost curve, but that sort of increase … is much less than I think meets the definition of bending the curve,” said Dr. Carl Nohr, adding that, if the government doesn’t budge, it could lead to patients waiting longer for care.

So, if more money is needed to lower wait times, then let’s square this circle.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Informatio­n, Albertans needing surgery for colorectal, breast and other common forms of cancer face lengthenin­g delays that are now among the longest in the country.

That’s despite spending the most per head of any province.

When it comes to comparativ­e countries such as Australia, Japan, Britain and Finland, here in Wild Rose land, we’re akin to high rollers in Las Vegas, tossing down health-care bucks with abandon.

So we spend more and get less. Therefore, logically, spending more will make things worse. Or maybe we’re wasting money that should be spent more wisely elsewhere.

Ouch — the looking glass cracks, Alice feels a sudden shiver, and a bare hint of reflected reality emerges from the mirror’s shards.

Because in public life, once a program is in place — health care differs only in scale from city bylaws or Calgary policing — it stays in place.

In the real world, if a family’s income drops or they want to splurge on some upcoming luxury, then they have to cut expenses elsewhere to balance the budget.

That’s not what happens when someone else pays. The AHS or AMA won’t look to transfer money from programs past their due date. That would entail some tough meetings with the lads and lasses who have been coasting. Better just belly up to the microphone and whine: “We need more or you’re all screwed.”

And when it comes to threats, targeting your health is about as potent as it gets.

Frankly, it’s nothing more than fear mongering from the cosseted who want to keep the gravy flowing.

It’s not about bending curves, because as anyone who’s run track and taken those bends will attest, sooner or later, you’re right back where you started.

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