Unclear prognosis

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Pity the poor health planners. Getting ready for the future must be like pinning the tail on a Jello donkey.

Monday, The Globe and Mail reported on yet another facet of dealing with health and the baby boom generation, and just how yet another hidden factor is likely to tip the scales of health care. The Globe story talked about an undiagnosed epidemic amongst the boomers: hepatitis C. What’s the issue? The number of people carrying the disease who don’t know it, and who won’t know it until they slip into full-blown liver failure.

There are enough for epidemiologists to describe it as a time bomb.

Statistics from B.C suggest one out of every 33 people in the baby boom generation carry the disease. If it’s not treated, it becomes severe, usually when people are in their sixties or older. If those numbers hold true, 400,000 Canadians carry the disease.

Doctors want to work now, rather than later:

60 per cent of people respond to treatment.

But hepatitis C is far from the only factor in the great playing field of figuring out where there will need to be more health-care dollars spent: those who crunch the numbers on our health are already dealing with the remarkable number of issues that arise from our ever-heavier population.

There are broadly forecast needs to deal with a variety of issues: more joint replacement surgeries for Canadians whose hinges simply can’t bear the long-term effort of functioning under a heavier load; more cases of diabetes due to obesity (and the offshoots of diabetic life, including heart and circulatory problems, amputations and a broad range of specialized health care); and a hopscotch of other issues involving too few dollars and too many needs.

In this province, a rapidly aging population will need a whole range of services, while at the same time, costs for specialized drugs continue to chew away at the bottom line.

Just think how many stories you’ve seen in the past year from patients arguing that one government or another should be paying for a particular type of care or available drug: the needs grow and change, and the costs do, too.

The problem with setting health priorities is that they will always be exactly that: priorities. And that means choosing one person’s situation over another. Add to that the difficulty of foreseeing what hidden ills may arise — like hepatitis C — and you can imagine why the whole process must sometimes feel to health planners like they are throwing darts blindfolded.

The only other option?

Agreeing that we need to find far more dollars for health care so that we can broaden our footprint of care.

And Canadians, repeatedly choosing governments that profess to want to cut taxes, clearly want to roll the dice on their own health. Funny. It’s a fiscal prudence that seems to last right up to the very first day that we actually need help ourselves.

Organizations: Globe and Mail

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