Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wynne, Hoskins, and the Red Meanies

It should be obvious to everyone by now that I'm a junkie for cartoons.

I was also a huge Beatles fan as a teenager. It should come as little surprise, then, that I've always had a soft spot for movie Yellow Submarine, the cartoon that brings the Beatles to Pepperland to thwart the Blue Meanies.

I bring this up because throughout my salad days, "Blue Meanie" has been as accurate an expression I can think of to describe conservative politicians, in Canada and elsewhere (yes, I know the color scheme is the opposite in the U.S.). Whether "red" or "blue", conservatives almost take pride in being mean...dour, angry, and chronically pissed off, even when they wield near-absolute power.

It takes only a handful of election cycles, of course, to realize that one side of the political spectrum is really no better than the other. Pandering, scaremongering, and corruption can find a home in any political party (as can their pals dishonesty, ego, and self-righteousness, but I digress).

Nevertheless, I find the latest health-care "solution" in Ontario to be something of a head-scratcher, both in terms of the idea and its political fate.

Ontario backtracks on deductibles hike for seniors above low income threshold

For the moment, let's set aside the scandals and missteps that currently plague the Ontario Liberals, and scrutinize the policy on its details.

For reference, the average senior under eighty fills 35 scripts a year. After age eighty, that number more than doubles to 74.

There were three components to the Liberal plan:

  1. Raising the low-income threshold at which seniors have to pay the full deductible.
  2. Increase the deductible by $70 per year, which doesn't apply to low-income seniors.
  3. Increase the co-pay per prescription by $1.
The net result is an average increase of $105 annually to young seniors (for total spending on medication of about $420) and $144 to more elderly seniors (for total medication spending around $700).

How much seniors should pay towards their own prescriptions is really a matter of ideology and politics rather than policy. The problem is that the using a "low-income threshold" to determine deductibles is a regressive policy, bordering on cruel. 

Why? Because a hard threshold doesn't work the same way progressive income taxes do. I pay the same tax on the first $20,000 of income that anyone else does, whether they make $25,000 or $25 million. Past that, however, I only pay more tax on the amount above that $20,000.

Under this proposal, a senior making $1 under the threshold pays an average of $70 for their medication (assuming 35 scripts per year) until age 80. A senior making $1 more than the threshold instantly pays $420, which leaves her hundreds of dollars poorer than her low-income neighbour. To make matters worse, a millionaire senior pays not a penny more for his pills than his former gardener, who's scraping by just above the low-income line. 

Moreover, the threshold is applied uniformly across the province, without regional adjustments for cost of living. Consider the high cost of food and fuel in the north, or higher property taxes in the big cities. The added costs of prescriptions under this plan can amount to a month or more's worth of food.

No wonder the plan blew up in the government's face as seniors' groups screamed bloody murder. Yes, under the new thresholds, thousands more seniors will no longer need to decide between food and medication. That's a good thing in a country as wealthy as Canada. But the Liberals now have to backpedal on their ill-conceived idea to the tune of at least $100 million per year, at a time when everyone can't stop moaning about health care costs. 

Does anybody realistically think the government can go down this road again before the next election? Relations with doctors are as toxic as they've been in decades, the Feds haven't declared a desire to ratchet up health spending, and the province is all-in on beefing up the LHINs. Where are the savings supposed to come from? 

What's even more frightening is that these are back-of-a-napkin calculations that even a child could do (if, I suppose, they could grasp the arcane math curriculum, but I digress once more). That same child could probably predict the political backlash just as easily. 

Both the Minister and Deputy Minister of Health in Ontario are doctors, and a plan this awful should never have seen the light of day. For God's sake, it violates the modern-day Oath of Hippocrates, which specifically mentions the significance of economics in the care of the sick

It's more likely that this boner of a policy represents a genuine lack of foresight more than anything else. In fact, I hope it does, for the sake of my understanding of politics (or at least how they relate to cartoons). Because if this wasn't just a giant brainfart, we need to fire up the engines on that yellow submarine...the Beatles have a whole new breed of Meanies to contend with.


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