The Health Council of Canada has released a new report warning that unless governments change how they approach addressing the needs of poorer and socially disadvantaged Canadians, the country will to continue to spend large amounts of money on the health care system.
The report highlights that income is a particularly strong determinant of health. Canadians with the lowest incomes are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, live with a disability, be hospitalized for a variety of health problems, experience mental health issues, and die at an earlier age. These same Canadians are twice as likely to use health care services as those with the highest incomes. The authors estimate that in 2010, about 20 percent of the total health care expenditure in Canada of $192 billion may be attributable to income disparities.
The authors call for governments to expand their approach to health promotion in order to tackle the major societal factors that lead to poor health and to take the pressure off health care budgets. The report details how health disparities have a significant role in health system costs, and asserts that the ongoing spending on acute care and programs that encourage a healthy lifestyle is not enough to improve the overall health of Canadians, especially those who live in or close to poverty.
The report does give recognition to Canadian governments that have started to move in this direction through attention to poverty-reduction strategies. However, the authors believe that governments still need to shift funding to programs and services that target Canadians who are poor, underemployed and disadvantaged.
See “Stepping It Up: Moving the Focus from Health Care in Canada to a Healthier Canada,” Health Council of Canada, 2010, available athealthcouncilcanada.ca.