Spencer van Vloten: Canada’s healthcare system is about to burst

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      By Spencer van Vloten

      Canada is a global leader in many ways.

      We ranked as number one in the 2021 Best Countries Report.

      We are home to more lakes than any other country, produce three-quarters of the world's maple syrup, and our talent on the ice is second to none, with 14 of the NHL’s top 15 all-time point leaders being Canadian.

      But among the good, there is also the bad, the ugly, and—in this case—the deadly.

      Let’s start with a timely one.

      May is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, and our rates of MS are so high that it has been labelled ‘Canada’s disease’.

      The neurological condition can impact a person’s ability to write, speak, and walk, along with causing a host of other issues and reducing one's lifespan an average of seven years.

      Although the causes of MS are unknown, it is believed to be influenced by a mix of environmental and genetic factors, and it is affecting a growing number of Canadians.

      More than 133,000 people nationwide are expected to be living with MS by 2031, with the corresponding health-sector costs to reach $2 billion annually.

      Roughly 80 percent of persons with MS also lose employment due to the condition, resulting in millions more of lost tax revenue and greater strain on social assistance and unemployment insurance.

      That may sound worrying enough, but our health problems continue.

      With almost two-thirds of Canadians obese or overweight, we are among the portliest on the planet, with an obesity rate higher than almost 90 percent of countries.

      And we are paying for it.

      The prevalence of diabetes in Canada—90 percent of which are Type 2—has grown, with a 44 percent increase expected from 2015 to 2025.

      New cases of diabetes are linked to more than $15 billion in health care costs over a decade, mostly on physician services and acute care.

      One in four Canadian adults also suffer from hypertension, which is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability and is closely tied to obesity.

      The estimated costs of hypertension nationwide rose from $13.9 billion in 2010 to more than $20 billion in 2020, with costs growing despite efforts to the contrary.  

      While all these surging costs are bad enough on their own, they are part of a bigger problem, as total healthcare costs exceeded $300 billion for the first time.

      And that is just the start.

      We are facing an incoming “tsunami" of long-term disability due to long COVID, and with Canadians 65 and above a growing portion of the population, Canada’s demographics are such that greater resources will be required to keep pace with the health care needs of an aging country.

      There is also a backlog of hundreds of thousands of surgeries, holdovers from the pandemic, that will need to be made up in the coming years.

      The costs we cut as pandemic spending is reduced is a small drop compared to those we will have to take on.

      And all this comes at a time when almost one million British Columbians, and millions more Canadians nationwide, have no family doctor to turn to.

      We are facing a perfect storm of pressures, and our health care systems can only hold out for so long before bursting.

      How do we ease the burden?

      For one, we must more aggressively treat the sources of rising costs.

      MS is not preventable, but advances in treatment can lessen its progression and the accompanying use of services.

      The National Population Health Study of Neurological Conditions was launched to do just that, and similar projects must be fully supported from start to finish to follow-up.

      Employees with MS should also get more support in the workplace, having the often-episodic nature of the condition accommodated so they can continue their employment.

      For hypertension, diabetes, and conditions with known risk factors, focusing on primary prevention is much less expensive than treating acute consequences.

      Adopting a long-overdue national obesity strategy that increases collaboration and knowledge-sharing between provinces would also be an important step in easing much of the weight on Canada’s healthcare system.

      Finally, public health measures must recognize that people are still getting COVID-19, and that it comes with long-term costs.

      Burying our heads and convincing ourselves that it is all over may make us feel better now, but the expense will be added to an already exorbitant bill.  

      While we must carry on with our lives, we cannot forget the risks that COVID-19 still poses, and our public health officials, of all people, certainly should not.

      Our bodies and bottom lines deserve better.

      Spencer van Vloten is a community advocate and nationally published writer from Vancouver. He edits the websites BCDisability.com and YouandMeBC.ca, and has been awarded the British Columbia Medal of Good Citizenship and the City of Vancouver Award of Excellence.