Latest instalment of Straight Talk series discusses why Canadians are resistant to needed reforms to medicare.

OTTAWA, November 28, 2013 – In the latest instalment of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's series of Straight Talk interviews, former Saskatchewan Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon says Canadians shouldn't view private delivery of health services as a "left-right issue". MacKinnon, who was part of an NDP government, points out that even more left-leaning countries in Europe, which often have better results than Canada's system, have "socialist governments that consistently support private delivery of services".

In Saskatchewan, MacKinnon points out, experiments with private clinics have proven very successful, delivering better service with a 26-percent reduction in costs.

"I would say a lot of people in Saskatchewan who really would have wondered about private clinics have been to them now and they kind of say, 'I'm not sure I see what the issue is here'. It's good service, it's easier, it's cheaper – why aren't we doing it?" says MacKinnon.

But there are many barriers to reform. In the interview she points to public sector unions and health professionals as powerful defenders of the status quo. She also says that large amounts of federal government funding have removed an incentive to reform. "(I)t's a really bad relationship", between the federal and provincial governments, she says. But now that the current federal government has decided to eventually reduce health transfers to the provinces, they need to co-operate and innovate.

Three key recommendations come out of this instalment of Straight Talk:

  • Divert more people from hospitals to less expensive and more appropriate facilities.
  • Change the funding model so there is a link between the use of the system and its costs.
  • Provinces need to co-operate to deal with rising costs such as health care professional salaries and prescription drugs.

MacKinnon says that her younger students at the University of Saskatchewan are not as attached to old ways of doing things as the generations before them. They think, "I can buy anything, why can't I buy health care. This is crazy!" says MacKinnon. She believes that change will come because people will realize the current system is fiscally unsustainable.

MacKinnon, who is the author of the MLI paper, Health Care Reform From the Cradle of Medicare, released earlier this year, also finds nothing inconsistent about being a Saskatchewan New Democrat who supports bold health care reforms. "If Tommy Douglas were alive today, he very well may think – and probably more likely than not – that the system needs to be updated for a 21st-century system." Says MacKinnon.

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The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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