Vive Le Canada

Private Health Would Cost $7.2B More
Date: Wednesday, June 09 2004

Mac study says for-profit hospitals would cost more, give inferior care.


The Hamilton Spectator

A McMaster study has found Canadians would pay an extra $7.2 billion a year for health care if the federal government allowed private companies to run hospitals.

Hamilton researchers timed today's publication of the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal to coincide with the federal election in hopes of influencing voters and candidates on one of the most controversial issues in health care.

"It's a great opportunity when real policy is being made and (candidates) have to stand up for what they believe in," said Dr. P. J. Devereaux, a Hamilton cardiologist and lead author of the study.

"Like anyone, you want to create debate. We hope to inform them to change their policies, or if they don't to let the public make the decision."

NDP candidate Gordon Guyatt, who is running in the riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, is one of 19 researchers taking part in the ongoing study. Devereaux waved off any suggestion of bias despite the NDP being the only mainstream party that has come out against private for-profit hospitals.

He points out the research went through rigorous peer review before being accepted by the prestigious medical journal.

It's also praised as "meticulous" by two Harvard University professors who wrote an editorial accompanying the article.

"We undertook measures to limit bias," said Devereaux. "Gord's running for the NDP, but he's a physician and a scientist first."

Allowing private companies to operate health facilities that would continue to be publicly funded has been a hot-button issue in the campaign. The Conservatives have said they would allow the provinces to decide if health-care services are delivered privately or through the public system.

"We believe what matters is that people can get access to the services, not who delivers them," said Tory leader Stephen Harper when he unveiled his health-care platform.

The Liberals say they prefer public delivery, although the government allows private clinics to provide a range of services.

Also, Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew has also made controversial comments about the private sector taking a greater role in health care, although he later withdrew those statements.

Devereaux hopes hard evidence will convince politicians and voters that allowing private companies to run hospitals is not a good solution to Canada's battle with long waiting lists and rising health-care costs. His research already concluded two years ago that American private for-profit hospitals have higher death rates.

The latest finding that the care is also 19 per cent more expensive -- regardless of whether governments or private insurance companies are paying -- is based on a meta-analysis of eight major studies involving over 350,000 patients treated in for-profit and not-for-profit U.S. hospitals between 1980 and 1995.

The study reports the main reasons for the higher price tag are profit, bigger bonuses to executives and larger administration costs.

"It's not in our best interest as a society to go down this road," he said. "It's a no-brainer. You have worse outcomes and you pay more."

David Christopherson, NDP candidate in Hamilton Centre, says the study confirms what his party has said all along.

"When you do the math at the end of the day the public loses," he said.

"We don't think that's the way to go at all. Money invested in the health care should be in the public domain."

However, his rivals don't agree that the private-sector should be automatically left out of health-care reforms.

"If it's effective and it doesn't infringe on individual access to universal health care, then it's fine," said Conservative Leon O'Connor. "Obviously something has to be done because the system right now isn't working."

Liberal Stan Keyes said the decision would be made after talking to the provinces and only if it complied with the Canada Health Act. The act doesn't bar private companies from delivering health care as long as medicare pays for the service with no extra fees to the patient.

"We want to look at everything," he said. "But we have our code and the code is the Canada Health Act."

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