By Steve MacLeod

Versions of this article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Charlottetown Guardian, St. John’s Telegram, Moncton Times Transcript, London Free Press and Halifax Chronicle Herald.

A new report portrays Roy Romanow as a complacent and naive spendthrift whose only solution to Canada’s cash-strapped health system is to spend more money.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, in a scathing report released Tuesday, criticizes Romanow for his role as head of a royal commission on the future of health care.
Brian Crowley, the report’s co-author, accuses Romanow of hearing only what he wants to hear, and ruling out many of the innovations that have vaulted several Western countries ahead of Canada in terms of health-care delivery.

“I think he’s made it clear he’s not listening,” Crowley said in an interview. “He’s made speeches in which he’s repeated the same old ideological bugaboos about how we mustn’t have private for-profit care.”

The Halifax-based conservative lobby group, in a report called Definitely NOT the Romanow Report, says medicare in its current state isn’t sustainable and recommends a two-tier system that would include user fees for more routine health procedures.

The report points to the World Health Organization’s ranking of Canada as having only the world’s 30th best health system as proof Canadians aren’t getting “bang for the buck” when it comes to health spending.

Crowley said a slowdown in health spending increases has been achieved mainly through reductions in services, closures, longer wait times, and greater dissatisfaction among patients.

“Mr. Romanow’s only response to these challenges is to throw more money at them,” he wrote in the 65-page report.

He said the chief problem with medicare is not a lack of money but “a failure to get real value from the massive spending we are already making on health care.”

“Yet Mr. Romanow has already rejected the only credible strategies for getting that value for money,” said Crowley, who accused the former Saskatchewan premier in his report of “complacent defence of the status quo.”

Romanow will end 18 months of public consultation Thursday with the release of his long-awaited report on how to fix the country’s cash-starved health system.
The former politician has already hinted at one potential remedy: using part of the federal government’s projected $70-billion surplus over the next five years to cover the rising health costs of an aging population.

The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Romanow will recommend the creation of a public watchdog to ensure high-quality health care through responsible spending.
The Atlantic Institute report proposes a system that would “concentrate scarce public health dollars where they’ll do the most good” and give patients “incentives to be prudent about how to spend them.”

Its recommendations include encouraging the emergence of more non-profit and for-profit clinics that would offer specialized services; and user fees for routine procedures that would involve most Canadians paying the first $325 of all health services they use in a year.

Crowley said user fees for routine procedures would free up more public money for more serious treatments, such as cancer care.

“What we need in the Canadian health system is more experimentation,” he said. “We need to try more new things, not fewer.”

Romanow has staunchly defended a public health system, saying recently that more private-sector participation would “demolish” the system.