Questions about the need for a seniors' advocate and negotiations with B.C. anesthesiologists were just some of the issues raised at a town hall meeting with Minister of Health Michael de Jong, held at the Richmond Hospital's Ralph Fisher Auditorium Friday.
De Jong showed a large projection of a pie chart, illustrating how B.C.'s budget is divided.
More is spent on health than any other sector - 45 per cent. Moreover, that number is rising and will continue to do so as the population ages.
It was against that backdrop that de Jong answered questions about cutting MSP premiums (which he said make up 12 per cent of that 45 per cent spent on healthcare) or extending medical coverage to include massage therapy, chiropractors and other alternative therapies.
At the same time, he stressed the need for prevention. Right now, 14 per cent of B.C. residents are smokers, he said.
"If we got that down to 10 per cent, we would reduce our health care costs by $500 million."
However, when it came to funding, de Jong asked the audience if anyone thought they didn't pay enough tax?
Although de Jong stated the need for prevention and acknowledged that prevention could save the taxpayers money, he repeatedly noted that if ballooning health care costs are to be reined in, new money could not be invested. Funding needs to be found in savings from other departments.
Critics of the Liberal health plan argue that it is a question of priorities, and maintaining amongst the lowest corporate tax rate of all G7 nations, reflects where the Liberals choose to invest.
Giving tax breaks, such as the two cents per litre reduction on jet fuel tax, is another example of what's limiting the government's ability to pay for preventative medicines, they argue.
De Jong was asked repeatedly about the labour dispute with, and shortage of, anesthesiologists. To that, he said not enough money was put into training medical specialists in the 1990s, hence the shortage.
One anesthesiologist agreed, but noted the current shortage has as much to do with an inability to retain anesthesiologists.
In 2010, B.C. graduated nine anesthesiologists; six have already left the province. Numerous surgeries had to be cancelled at Richmond Hospital recently, due to the shortage.
B.C. anesthesiologists want to negotiate directly with the government, however the government will only negotiate with the B.C. Medical Association, which is supposed to represent all medical specialists.