Over the most recent 10-year period (1999/2000 to 2008/2009),
government health expenditures in the province grew at an average annual rate of
6.9 per cent, compared to 5.1 per cent for total available provincial revenues.
Meanwhile, over the same period, the economy only grew by 4.4 per cent annually.
In his recent budget speech, Bachand acknowledged that Quebec’s
health care system is in serious financial trouble. While this recognition of
the problem is encouraging, the proposed new health tax will do nothing to solve
the problem. Since the new tax is not linked to the cost of care or a person’s
past or potential use of medical services, it is not connected to health care
demand and consequently, will have no effect on current or future costs.
Therefore, it will do nothing to tame the unsustainable growth in government
health care spending.
Instead the government should follow through with its plan to
introduce a health deductible, which would require Quebecers to pay a small user
fee when using medical services. This would encourage patients to use the health
care system more responsibly, a much-needed reform currently in use in many
European countries. Unfortunately, the government is now backpedaling on the
idea of the health deductible.
The problem with the current system is that patients pay for health
care through taxes, meaning there is no price at the point of service. Without
price signals, individuals do not have an incentive to control the amount (and
type) of health care services they consume, which inevitably leads to excessive
demand for health care services.
As government health care spending continues to consume a larger
amount of provincial revenues, the government will eventually be forced to
either increase or introduce new taxes or cutback the medical services that it
currently provides, neither of which is good for patients and taxpayers more
generally. Quebec must stop relying on this ‘paying more and getting less in
return’ approach to funding health care.