Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Money for nothing

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The deal for a decade has come to an end, and the success in cutting wait times in health care has been unremarkable. That's the bottom line from a report on how well provinces are meeting targets set in 2004, when Ottawa agreed to transfer $5.5 billion to cut waits in five areas.

And little wonder: The idea that money itself will fix the problem has been discredited globally, a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information says. The question now is what will happen when the rate of increase to health transfers falls off in 2017.

Manitoba, having received more than $200 million for wait-time reductions from Ottawa, continues to lag behind almost all provinces in meeting wait-time targets for hip, knee and cataract surgeries. Like most of Canada, this province does well on radiation therapy and hip fractures.

The bigger picture is equally discouraging. Yes, the provinces now collect reliable data so performance can be measured and compared nationally. But the report CIHI produced is a shadow of what was promised in 2004. No comparison is done on wait times for diagnostic imaging and CIHI no longer reports on waits for heart surgery because physicians dispute how to do that. Further, this report card omits the time patients wait to see a specialist, to be slotted for surgery.

CIHI tries to shed some light on why the great gobs of cash spent in Canada have accomplished so little. The report said analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that almost invariably, countries that used cash alone to cut wait times failed because "the effect tends to last only until the funding ends." Successful schemes imposed sanctions, such as loss of funding, if patients waited too long. That is instructive to any future health deal Ottawa may contemplate with the provinces.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 A16

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