© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the September 2005 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Frontlines: Reshaping healthcare
The CMA speaks out on private healthcare.
By Joel Kranc

There’s no second opinion needed. Doctors are pretty much in agreement when it comes to the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Chaoulli and Zeliotis v. Quebec case. A poll conducted by the Canadian Medical Association(CMA)in Ottawa shows physicians and the general population agree that allowing access to private health insurance will reduce waiting times for patients. Eightyone per cent of doctors and 65% of Canadians said the decision would reduce wait times.

The CMA study appears to be split. Even though Canadians think the ruling will help with wait times, 54% believe it is “a bad thing because it will ultimately weaken the public health system that so many people rely on.”

Beneath the surface, however, the poll indicates various levels of opinion on the Chaoulli case. For example, says Dr. Albert Schumacher, former president of the CMA, doctors are reacting to something they already know. “People are dying on waiting lists. So when you ask doctors if they agree with that [Chaoulli] ruling, they say ‘absolutely, because that’s what I’m finding in my practice,’” he says. Doctors and patients concur that the public system could be at risk if provincial governments “don’t pull up their socks.”

With the Chaoulli decision in Quebec and the recent introduction of the “third way” in Alberta, which allows for some privately funded health services, are other provinces going to have to look at the option of a privately covered medical system? Schumacher says the choice does already exist. “My patients are already accessing significant numbers of services across the border in Michigan on a weekly basis,” he notes.

While the public is supportive of looking at private insurance methods, Schumacher says core services, such as the ones currently provided by hospitals, are always in the back of people’s minds. “The fear is spread by the politicians that the best doctors will leave the public system for the private system.” But Schumacher suggests that having a private component within the system may actually attract and retain doctors. The poll, conducted in two parts by Ipsos-Reid for the CMA, interviewed 1,006 Canadians between July 11 and July 15 and 200 physicians between June 28th and July 18th.

World View

The International Monetary Fund(IMF)has stated the European single market for investment funds requires more development in the face of shifting demographics and the need for retirement savings. The IMF points to Europe’s largely fragmented environment where legal and tax barriers hamper the development of cross-border investment products. Also, the IMF states that European countries need to prepare for the “looming demographic shock” by making sure pension plans are fiscally balanced by 2010.

An Indian parliamentary panel is recommending the same foreign direct investment(FDI)in India’s pension sector as currently exists for insurance firms.

Insurance companies were previously allowed 26% FDI with plans to increase it to 49%. “The committee is of the view that the decision relating to permitting FDI in the pension sector…should in no way be in variance with the related provisions applicable to the insurance sector,” said the Standing Committee on Finance.

Some people will do anything to keep their pension money away from their spouses. An elderly man in Pyatigorsk, a town in southwestern Russia, set his apartment on fire to keep his commonlaw wife from getting his life savings of three million rubles or about US$100,000.

Interfax, the Russian news agency, reported the man had been accumulating his pension money since the 1970s. But a recent quarrel made him decide to destroy the money to get back at his wife, who never even knew about the money. A police spokesman said firefighters collected almost 50 pounds of scraps of 1,000-ruble and US$100 bills from the apartment.

Joel Kranc