Editorial: Quebec can’t afford false economies on health care

François Lauzon has won a four-year battle against the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec over what type of prosthetic leg it would pay for.

Courtesy of François Lauzon

It took a four-year battle and help from the War Amps of Canada to bring the case to the Tribunal administratif du Québec, but a man who lost part of his leg in a motorcycle accident finally has won the right to the computerized knee that doctors had recommended. 

The Societé de l’assurance automobile du Québec (and the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec before it) evidently were loath to spend the extra money on something they deemed unnecessary. The prosthesis they provided costs $25,000 and lasts about three years; the one François Lauzon sought costs about $60,000 but lasts six. 

What didn’t seem to factor into their calculations, however, was that because the more expensive prosthesis greatly reduces the chance of falls, it saves the system other costs; and because its better functioning creates less strain on the good leg, other potential health costs are avoided, too. And this is counting only dollars and cents, not quality of life.

Indeed, it seems that our cash-strapped health and social service system is rife with false economies and short-term calculations. Bean-counters may argue they are being careful with taxpayers’ money — as indeed they should be — but the best way of all to serve the taxpayer is to prevent greater health-care expenditures later and, where possible, give people the help they need to be productive, tax-paying members of society.

For example, home support services are badly insufficient. Yet it costs less to give people the help — with food preparation and bathing, for example — they need to stay in their own homes than it does to move them to chronic care hospitals. And more space in chronic care means more potential spaces for patients ready to leave acute care, which in turn frees up beds for those languishing in emergency rooms. 

Services for children on the autism spectrum, and support for their families, are another example. Timely diagnosis and early interventions increase a child’s chances of reaching his or her full potential; in some cases this can mean the difference between becoming an employed, tax-paying citizen or depending on public support. For families, help can mean the difference between parents staying in the workforce or having to quit jobs.

And there are any number of other examples, including wait lists for public physiotherapy for those with chronic conditions, failure to cover insulin pumps for diabetic adults in most cases, even the shortage of family doctors. 

Providing appropriate health care is not only a matter of social justice, but a smart investment. The fact that budgets are tight is all the more reason to avoid false economies. 



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