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LETTER: Our medical and financial health are at stake

Health-care costs
Health-care costs - thinkstock.com

Russell Wangersky’s recent column on the cost of our health care leads me to wonder how we are going to pay for the health care of our rapidly aging population other than to increase what taxpayers contribute, either to government through our taxes or through some sort of user fee.

It has been clear for the past thirty years that ways to do health care differently must be found if we are not to bankrupt ourselves.

It should be obvious to even the most obtuse bureaucrat and politician by now that more money is not the answer.

As I pointed out in a letter published in The Telegram in January of last year, Paul Martin’s six per cent annual increase to health care over 10 years, with a further three years added by Stephen Harper, translated into a 113 per cent total increase in health care transfers from the federal government during that 13 year interval.

What tax payers got in exchange for all that money were increases in pay for health workers, new layers of bureaucracy and precious little improvement in the product being delivered.
Personally, I have no faith that a better product can be delivered under the present system or that any improvement is possible.

The administration and workers in the existing system are profiting handsomely from the status quo so they have no incentive to introduce or champion any policy or change that will see their living standards affected in any way.

Doing more for less is a pipe dream in the heavily unionized health-care system environment and I place doctors in this category since the medical association serves as a trade union with a more palatable name.
However, there is hope for a government which has the courage to act if we ever elect one that does not treat “government courage” as an oxymoron.

Artificial Intelligence is now better and more accurate than doctors at diagnosing disease and an order of magnitude more accurate at interpreting X-rays and MRI images. And, we are in the very early development stages of the application of Artificial Intelligence to medical care.

Things will only get better.

For those who harbour doubts in submitting to a computer for a diagnosis I offer my personal experience. Nineteen years ago I had my doctor tell me that I would feel better in spring when the weather improved, when in fact I was suffering from Hodgkins Lymphoma.

And of course there are the women who died because of incompetent interpretation of their X-rays some years ago. That fiasco cost George Tilley, Eastern Health’s CEO at the time, his job. Surely a computer would do no worse than that.
In the manufacturing sector, automation with the aid of robotics, has been displacing workers for decades when union demands have exceeded the cost of automation. This is what happens in the private sector.

Our health care system, being part of the public sector which is in the iron grip of the public sector unions will not be so easily automated with the aid of artificial intelligence. Which is why we need a government with courage.

A government that will over-rule the demands of those who are benefitting from the status quo and do what is best for the long abused tax payer.

Both our medical and financial health is at stake and we need leadership that will do more than ineffectually nibble at the edges as is currently the case.

Barry Imhoff
St. John’s

Related column:

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Wondering about what health costs? Look to your pets

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