Social and ethical questions needed in health spending

Reader questions spending when it comes to healthcare.

Dear Editor:

The Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean-Yves Duclos, has not been in the news headlines in anyway, as far as I know, since the October election, almost a year ago. Yet reading a recent document of his prior to the election suggests a potentially big shift in social support dollars at some point if he has his way. Prior to his election Mr Duclos was the head of the economics department at the University of Laval and president elect of the Canadian Economic Association. He was also elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014.

Until his election he was an active researcher on issues related to poverty in Quebec and Canada but also on pro-poor tax reforms in Mexico and the pro-poor growth in countries like Mauritius and South Africa, often in collaboration with colleagues from the economics department at Laval. My limited awareness of economists, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who often went by that designation, is that they rarely focus on issues related to poverty.

In a recent paper published in February of 2015, not that long ago, with Bouba Housseini entitled Quality, Quantity and Duration of Lives, Mr. Duchos makes some remarkable observations that I suggest should involve major reflection on the part of the Canadian electorate and public. He and his colleague writes: “We end up spending a third of our overall health care resources in the last year of life…Some of these resources could presumably be spent for other socially valuable purposes, such as improving the living standards of younger lives.”

Later he goes on to say, “More than 10 million children under age 5 still die each year that’s almost 30,000 per day.” He’s talking worldwide here I believe.

Canada’s health care budget in 2015 was $219.1 billion. If Duchos is correct, 71 billion dollars is spent on the last year of life of patients. I don’t know how that math works in specific terms. I’m not a health economist but if the minister of Familes, Children and Social Development is correct there are some important ethical, social and health decisions by Canadians to be made of either prioritizing money at the end of life or at its beginning.

George Jason


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