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Few things separate Canada from our American neighbours more clearly than our attitude towards the delivery of healthcare. But while the pride we take in our system is understandable, America’s relationship with the idea of public healthcare doesn’t give us a free pass when it comes to improving our own. As our population continues to age, we are rapidly approaching the point at which our healthcare system cannot be sustained in its present form without either a substantial increase in taxes or a meaningful reduction in other public services.

Neither is an attractive option for most Albertans, least of all the elected officials who represent them. And so, it’s time to re-assess exactly what we want out of our healthcare system — and how we’d like to see it delivered. Part of that reassessment involves broadening our understanding of what healthcare means and covers. The health and wellness of Albertans doesn’t begin and end when they interact with the healthcare system, after all. In fact, we can help to reduce the cost and frequency of those interactions through interventions and steps that help prevent illness and promote wellness. In addition, paying more attention to the social determinants of health, like income and demographics, will help us avoid being caught playing catch up with the consequences. Preventing ill health and treating root causes is ultimately a far more efficient and effective solution than dealing with the problems once they have arisen.

Part of the reassessment requires us to make some tougher choices than we have in the past. More spending on our healthcare system isn’t automatically the answer here, and while we might have been able to afford that — or at least, afford to overlook that — during the boom times, those days are behind us. Instead, we need to be willing to experiment with new forms and methods of service delivery that can optimize the dollars in the system, spread them more widely, and improve access where and how possible.

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