Less Ottawa, More Province: How Decentralization Is Key to Health Care Reform
Despite high levels of public spending, Canada’s health-care system consistently performs more poorly than a number of peer jurisdictions with universal health-care systems. Governments across the country must address this policy challenge in a context of constrained resources, as the federal government and a number of provinces currently face increasing debt loads and other significant fiscal challenges.
Canada’s experience with welfare reform provides a model with important implications for how to begin reforming and improving Canadian health care. By reducing transfers in real terms while amending specific provisions of the Canada Health Act that inhibit reform, the federal government can partially address the fiscal challenges it faces today while providing provinces with the freedom to innovate and pursue policy reforms to improve their health-care systems. Such changes would allow for greater experimentation by each province as they seek out what policy arrangements have the best possibility of improving health-care performance.
It is uncertain exactly what reforms different provinces would choose and this paper does not weigh the advantages and risks of specific reform options in detail. Instead, based on Canada’s experience with welfare reform, this paper recommends a crucial change, the devolvement of decision-making powers to the provinces, with the federal government permitting each province maximum flexibility (within a portable and universal system) to provide and regulate health-care provision as they see fit.