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Health Minister wrong on excessive health spending, "personal responsibility," says expert

The Minister of Health's claim that British Columbia cannot afford to spend more on healthcare has been met with skepticism from one health economist.

But Minister Mike de Jong is right in calling for a larger focus on prevention over treatment, says Dr. Steven Morgan, professor of health policy at UBC.

Speaking yesterday at a Union of BC Municipalities panel discussion, Health Minister Mike de Jong, warned that 45 per cent of the provincial budget is already going towards healthcare.

But according to Morgan, this can be a misleading way to look at the issue.

"Using the healthcare spending as a percentage of the government budget creates a bit of confusion about what is really going on," says Morgan. "Healthcare might look like it's out of control, but in fact, government has put a squeeze on all other areas of spending."

In other words, though healthcare spending has been rising, it is the reduced spending in all other government sectors that makes healthcare appear so large in comparison, explains Morgan. Shrink the whole pie and the remaining slice will appear larger.

As a measure of the total provincial economy, he says, healthcare spending has been rising -- but in line with many other sectors.

"Healthcare is more sustainable than those statistics suggest," says Morgan. "And to the credit of the Ministry."

While disagreeing with Minister de Jong's suggestion that smokers be asked to pay higher insurance premiums, Morgan did applaud the Minister's focus on preventative care.

"This is an old story that we've been talking about since the 1970s and the Minister is right in talking about it," says Morgan.

But beyond isolated policies that target unhealthy behavior, the government should pursue a holistic approach to health and work with other ministries in promoting public health, he says.

"We want to address some of the non-medical determinants of health," says Morgan. "If we have a health focus as a province, we want to make sure our tax policies, our labour policies, our housing policies, are all consistent with what is known to improve the health of a population."

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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