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GEORGE: Time to stop punishing people for being poor

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Chris George


Every now and then the discussion about the best way to deliver health care in this country flares up on social media. 

There are some who think that a private for-profit system would be better than our current single-payer public system. And there are some who think that our current system is the best way to go. After watching this debate for my entire adult life I have to say that I find myself coming down on the side of our current system.

The primary arguments for a private system are built around the idea of competition. The thinking goes that if many companies are competing for consumer health care dollars that they will deliver the goods and services more efficiently and at a lower cost. Now the miserable example presented by the system in our neighbour to the south is instructive here. Their system exemplifies this approach and may well be more efficient. Yet no one ever holds it up as a model of lower cost and great public health outcomes.

Nor should they. The drive for profit adds cost at every turn. Insurance, pharmaceuticals, primary care; all have their own requirement to profit and at no point is public health ever a consideration. Cost comparisons are difficult between the two systems but comparing outcomes isn't. And it is here where our single payer system shines.

Health care really isn't a commodity item that benefits from the competitive marketplace driven by shareholder logic. How could there be? The shareholders of the system in place down south and the corporations they fund all benefit from ill health. They have exactly zero incentive to keep people healthy or even to cure what ails them. No benefit is seen to them when governments or communities bring forward ideas to help keep their friends and neighbours healthy.

Canada is different. The people funding our system would benefit directly from measures taken to improve public health and reduce the use of our public system. And so our outcomes, overall, are better than those in the U.S.. On the two big indicators, infant mortality and life expectancy, we have a clear advantage. Focusing on what is good for people's health instead of what is good for their stock portfolio is paying dividends.

So when our provincial government announces that their recent poverty initiatives are designed to help curb health care costs, British Columbians can easily see the links and the benefits. Anything we can do to reduce poverty will clearly pay dividends via reductions in our long-term health care costs.

“What this government has done, in our first budget when we came into office in May and September, is a series of actions that were all about health care, but nothing about the Ministry of Health at all,” Dix told The Tyee.

There is a question for the voters baked into this observation: Why is it just now that the province is stepping up to tackle a primary cause of high health care costs?

These higher costs are paid by all of us and we share an interest in making sure they are as low as we can get them while still enjoying the positive outcomes. There are many other examples where a prudent action in the public interest has this type of impact on the costs that we as a country have decided are to borne by all of us. Lower poverty rates are inversely correlated with crime rates, educational achievement, and yes, positive health outcomes. So it only makes sense to tackle poverty first.

The idea that measures to improve nutrition, reduce poverty, and educate people on the public dime will lead to lower corporate profits and reduced dividends to shareholders and should, therefore, be fought against by ideologues and lobbyists is insane. We see where it goes when we look south.

As far as the efficiency argument goes? I would rather wait a couple of extra days for a procedure than trade the enormous public good of single payer health care for an appointment today.

And as a taxpayer, I am all for reducing poverty. I don't think we can afford to keep punishing people for being poor.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

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