Jan 13, 2012

Making health care funding sustainable


The BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Health is currently investigating the sustainability of BC’s health care system (with a focus on demographic / aging trends), and asked for written submissions of peer-reviewed studies on the subject.

Here’s what I just submitted:

Submission to the BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Health

From: Seth Klein, BC Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Re. Sustainability of the Health Care System

Date: Jan 13, 2012

Thank you for this opportunity to offer this written submission to your committee’s deliberations.

Given the topic you are investigating, I want to make sure that you are familiar with some relevant peer-reviewed reports that have been published by our institute.

Of most direct relevance is a 2006 report by our senior economist Marc Lee entitled Is BC’s Health Care System Sustainable? A Closer look at the Costs of Aging and technology. The report can also be found here.

Like your committee’s mandate, this report estimated the financial implications of demographic trends on the health care system into the 2030s. Among the report’s key findings:

This paper finds that population aging, in and of itself, is but a small contributor to rising cost pressures in the health care system. Based on current projections there is little to suggest a demographic time-bomb about to go off. Instead, the real challenge for financing the health care system is advances in technological possibilities, broadly defined to include pharmaceutical drugs, new surgical techniques, new diagnostic and imaging technologies, and end-of-life care. These challenges can be addressed most efficiently and equitably in the context of a public system…

  • Population aging has been a cost driver in the system, but a very small one compared to other sources. The impact of population aging was 0.9% per year over the 1995 to 2005 period. This is consistent with other studies of population aging.
  • Inflation (as reflected in salary increases and higher cost of supplies) has been the biggest cost driver over the 1995 to 2005 period, with increases averaging 2.4% per year, followed by population growth at 1.2% per year.
  • The expansion (or “enrichment”) of health care services over time (such as new technologies, long-term care, home care and pharmaceutical drugs) is also an important factor. The average British Columbian receives one and a half times more health care services as his or her equivalent 30 years ago.

I would also like to draw you attention to a number of other CCPA reports relevant to your work:

  • Why Wait? Public Solutions to Cure Surgical Waitlists, by Alicia Priest, Michael Rachlis and Marcy Cohen (2007), available here.
  • What’s in a Scan? How well are consumers informed about the benefits and harms related to screening technology (CT and PET scans) in Canada, by Alan Cassels et al (2009), looks at how unnecessary and sometimes harmful scans can drive up health care costs. It is available here.
  • An Uncertain Future for Seniors: BC’s restructuring of home and community care, 2001-2008, by Marcy Cohen et al (2009), looks at how inadequate investment in community care is placing more pressure on the more expensive acute care system. It is available here.
  • Innovations in Community Care: From Pilot Project to System Change, by Cohen et al (2009), is a companion paper that highlight successful innovations that, if scaled-up province-wide, could take pressure off the acute care system. It is available here.
  • The Cost of Poverty in BC, by Iglika Ivanova (2011), looks at how poverty increases costs to the health care system. In particular, it finds that poverty in BC is adding an additional $1.2 billion per year to the province’s health care system. It is available here.

Thank you for this opportunity.