Letter: Medical premiums can backfire

Editor: Re: Time to take MSP off life support (B.C. Views, March 4).

I enjoyed Tom Fletcher’s column on MSP premiums and it brought back to mind some research I conducted when I was at Decima Research in the late ’80s.

As is true today, there was concern among some that people were over-using medical care, in part because they did not understand its cost.

We tested views about costs of the system and looked in particular at differences between provinces that charged premiums and those that did not.

The results were surprising. We found that a significant minority of respondents in provinces that had premiums believed that their premiums covered the entire cost of the health system. Far from making them more cautious about accessing the system, many of those premium-paying respondents thought, “I’m paying for it, so why shouldn’t I go to the hospital/clinic whenever I want.”

As is the case today, proponents of premiums argued that it would make people more sensitive to the costs of the services they used; the converse turned out to be true.

The only serious attempt to let people know about medical costs directly was Alberta’s disastrous (and never repeated) experiment in informing households about all the medical services consumed by the household in the previous year.

Ian Mckinnon,

Oak Bay