Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Health Policy from the Green Party

Oct 14th is D-Day for Canadians to go to the polls and elect our next Prime Minister. Like many, I am a swing voter. I tend to be what the political types call a blue-liberal; meaning I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In the last election health care wait times proved to be the most important issue in the minds of Canadians.

For the first time in a long time, there are some stark differences between the party platforms. The Green Party currently holds approximately 4.5% of the popular vote in Canada. They have an intensive (and referenced) 7,500 word health platform. The bulk of the platform relates to health promotion including, building healthy lifestyles and developing personal skills, creating supportive environments, strengthening community action and building healthy public policy. While the goals are noble, many cross far beyond the boundaries of the Health Canada. A majority of the plan is written by students and professor of the University of Toronto's Centre for Health Promotion.

The pointy end of the health-promotion-stick, however is a section titled; "Reorienting Health Services". The central premise of this section is that "health care costs claim a rising percentage of Canada’s available public resources each year, without corresponding improvements in individual or population health outcomes " and that "limits on the public purse mean that money spent on costly high-tech end of life treatments (that may prolong life, but not necessarily quality of life) is money that cannot be spent on (often more cost-effective) disease prevention and health promotion programs, or addressing more fundamental determinants of health".

My interpretation of this is that the Green Party believes both catastrophic health care coverage (end-of-life treatments) and basic health programs (for poverty and housing) and not financially sustainable so they will fund the latter. They also propose to restructure health education and expand delivery of care to cover "medically necessary services that could be provided more readily, effectively, holistically, and cheaply by qualified allied and complementary healthcare professionals".

While it is hard to disagree with many of the premises in the Green Party's health care platform I found it lacking in actionable plans. Aside from the more 'holistic' problems they identify in health care delivery there is still the reality that wait times are long, family doctors are few and inaccessible, many hospitals require refurbishment and the ancillary services are still evolving roles in the health care team. The plan is so broad as to be completely unobtainable even in a minority role. I attempted to contact the author of the plan at the email listed and it was bounced back. I also sent an email to Ms May, the Green Party leader and received the following response from a staffer;

"We do not have official policies on "wait times", because we believe they should be a non-issue in a country with a strong health care system, which we are committed to creating."

A party that is hoping to lead our country doesn't have an opinion on one of the most pressing health care issues facing our nation. Based on the email, they are simply choosing to ignore the problem as if it didn't exist. I applaud them for incorporating social issues in a health care plan including domestic violence. Overall, however, I give the Green Party plan a failing grade. It has the over-reaching goals of an ivory tower academic with too little actionable goals.

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