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Province-wide prevention program can lower Alberta’s health costs, report says

A University of Calgary report says a province-wide preventative health program could reduce care costs significantly.

Economics professor Herb Emery from the School of Public Policy says the rising cost of health-care cannot be supported by taxpayers and other options, including the use of preventative medicine, need to be explored.


January 22, 2015
By Bill Graveland The Canadian Press

“It’s widely agreed this is possible and it’s estimated up to a quarter
of what we’re spending on acute-care treatment could be avoided if we
could turn down that tap by improving the health of the population,”
Emery said Thursday when the report was released.

“What we do
know is if we don’t deal with this, we’re all going to be paying higher
taxes for medicare and that sales tax we’re talking about now may not be
able to stay at five per cent – it may be closer to 10.”

The
study compared results from Pure North S’Energy Foundation, a
Calgary-based, privately run preventative program, with control samples
from Alberta Health. The Pure North program, which has clinics in
Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, tries to control chronic
health problems through a combination of screening and testing,
lifestyle modification and identifying nutritional deficiencies.

Emery
said hospital and emergency room visits by the 5,689 individuals
studied were lower, which resulted in costs 22 to 39 per cent below
those in the public system.

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“My guess is it would save eight to 10 per cent system-wide if you did this on a province-wide population level,” he said.

“That would be eight to 10 per cent of $12 billion in Alberta Health Services. I think you would get $1.2 billion out of it.”

It would also free up the equivalent of 1,600 hospital beds and reduce pressure on health-care services, he suggested.

He says a province-wide approach would cost about $500 a person.

Emery
doesn’t expect the Alberta government to buy into the idea right away,
but he said the data so far indicates it is worth having another look at
it. He doesn’t believe the program would have to be mandatory, but
could run within medicare if some obstacles were overcome.

One of
those hurdles would be accommodating the terms of the Canada Health
Act, “which obligates (the government) to pay for treatment but does not
obligate them to pay for prevention.”

“You run into problems,
too, in an evidence-based decision-making world (where) a lot of
preventative care has never been evaluated. Right now it is difficult to
even convince the health research community that your interventions are
having value.”


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