Health-care reform in Ontario would help patients and the economy

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Appeared in National Newswatch, September 18, 2023
Health-care reform in Ontario would help patients and the economy

The Ford government has frequently promised to reduce wait times for surgeries and help encourage economic growth. But according to research published by the Fraser Institute, these goals are closely connected. If Premier Ford can make good on his promise to cut wait times, it will not only be good news for patients, but also for the province’s economic performance.

There are good reasons for the Ford government to make health-care reform a top priority. In 2022, total health-care spending (public and private) now comprises 11.7 per cent of the provincial economy. And health care is by far the largest line item in the provincial budget, good for 39.6 per cent of total expenses in 2023/24.

Yet it’s not clear that all this spending is producing commensurately impressive results.

According to estimates, Ontarians were waiting for 369,402 procedures in 2022. That same year, patients in Ontario were waiting a median of 10.2 weeks between seeing a specialist and receiving care, up dramatically from an estimated 4.9 weeks in 1993.

The wait times endured by individuals have significant direct and indirect health and economic consequences that are often borne by patients. Long waits for care can have serious consequences ranging from pain, disability and poorer medical outcomes, especially in the long term.

These issues alone justify Premier Ford’s decision to make reducing wait times a top priority.

Moreover, the time patients spend waiting for medical treatment can impact their ability to work. This costs the economy and individual patients (in the form of lost wages). Last year, the economic impact of these waits in Ontario amounted to $708 million in lost wages and productivity (averaging out to $1,900 per waitlisted person). This estimate only included working hours and excluded the value of the time people spend outside of work in a diminished capacity with friends/family or pursuing personal interests. When the value of time spent awake outside the traditional work week was considered, this estimate ballooned to $2.1 billion. And none of these estimates include the time it takes for an Ontarian to see a specialist in the first place (10.1 weeks).

Premier Ford has promised big changes ahead. “We can’t do the same status quo,” he said, adding that the current arrangement is “broken.” The premier has backed up his words with action, announcing plans to permit the delivery of more publicly funded surgeries for private clinics.

The Ford government is pursuing big policy changes in an effort to cut wait times. The data show that if these initiatives succeed, they won’t just help suffering patients, but may also help boost the province’s finances and contribute to Ontario’s economic performance.

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