TORONTO – Watching “Breaking Bad” — the hit TV show about a teacher who turned to cooking meth to help pay for his cancer treatments — got David Musyj thinking about how little Canadians know about the cost of their health care.
Musyj, CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, thinks patients would appreciate health care more if they knew exactly how much it cost.
“How can we have an educated debate regarding health care, which is consuming 40-plus per cent of our provincial budget — approximately $50 billion a year —when we have no clue on how much individuals are consuming or what is the cost of health care on an individual basis,” Musyj asked in an interview.
In a report to his hospital’s board of directors, Musyj suggested people should be provided with a summary of all their Ontario Health Insurance Plan charges on an annual basis, or when a patient leaves a hospital.
Instead of mailing invoice-like statements to patients, the government could set up a website so people could see how much their care costs the province, added Musyj.
“The technology is available,” he said. “Why can’t we have a system where people log into a website and have their password and check out how much has been billed to OHIP on their behalf?”
The New Democrats flatly oppose giving patients any sort of physical invoice or statement of accounts as a “waste of time, money and energy,” but they “love” the idea of letting people see their OHIP charges on a website.
“They are taxpayers’ dollars and we should know how much money was spent for the service that we got,” said NDP health critic France Gelinas. “I think a lot of good would come of that, but it’s very different from an elderly patient getting a ‘bill’ from the Ministry of Health.”
The Progressive Conservatives also support giving patients accurate information on how much their care costs the province.
“I think it has a lot of merit because it helps people to understand the costs of health care, and I think it also helps them to participate in the discussion about health care that I think that we need to have,” said PC health critic Christine Elliott.
The government said it was concerned about “significant new costs” of setting up systems to give patients access to their personal OHIP statements and hospital accounts, a sentiment echoed by the Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province’s doctors.
“Cost transparency is an interesting idea, but we must ensure that new initiatives are supported by the best available evidence and worth the expense,” OMA president Dr. Scott Wooder said in a statement.
However, Musyj said the ministry actually holds the licence for case-costing software but has only made it available to about one-third of Ontario hospitals.
“This software is a great management tool for hospitals to know definitively every single case and all the costs associated with each case,” he said.
“It would be a double win if all hospitals had access to it because they would be able to be better managers of their revenues and expenses, and a side benefit would be the ability to provide every single patient with a detailed account of their use of that system.”
The Ministry did not respond to questions asking why the software was not made available to all hospitals in the province.
It’s not the first time the idea of individual patient accounts has been raised. Former Ontario health minister Tony Clement floated the idea in 2002, but met resistance from health care professionals who were worried it was the first step from the Mike Harris Conservatives before patients got bills they had to pay.
Musyj said he’s pretty sure of one thing: “Breaking Bad” wouldn’t have lasted long as a television series if it had been set in Canada.
“If “Breaking Bad” was a Canadian or an Ontario series it would have been over in one episode because Walter White would have gotten his chemo without charge and would have gone into remission and the series was over,” laughed Musyj. “It wouldn’t have gone on because he wouldn’t have had to turn to a life of crime to pay for it.”