Published on Mon, 09/19/2011 by Ontario Lung Association

Make lung health an election issue and save yourself some hard-earned money

By Kelly Muñoz

Healthcare remains a hot topic in the 2011 provincial election, with good reason. Healthcare costs assume about one-third of the entire provincial budget so every voter has a vested interest in how these costs are managed. And, with costs expected to hit the stratosphere over the next 30 years, healthcare should be of particular interest to younger voters since they'll be on the hook to foot the bill while the majority of today's workforce enjoys retirement.

One of the higher cost areas to watch relates to lung disease, which is very prevalent in our province. Diseases like asthma are so widespread, many people neglect to consider the hefty price tag that comes with them. For example, according to the latest research released by the Ontario Lung Association, 1.7 million adults and children in Ontario have asthma, with annual costs of up to $1.8 billion. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)--a disease many still refer to as emphysema or chronic bronchitis--bears an annual cost of $3.9 billion. The report projects these two diseases alone will have a cumulative cost over the next 30 years of $96 billion and $310 billion respectively.

Houston, we have a problem. Or rather, make that Queen's Park.

Numbers like this are mind-numbing to those of us trying to meet our bi-weekly mortgage payments, keep up with gas prices or pay off student loans. The same report indicates that tobacco-related healthcare costs total about $7.7 billion--or just over $600 out of every person's pocket in Ontario--including non-smokers. So no matter where you stand on the ethics of smoking, there's no question it's a serious--and expensive - healthcare issue and we all need to be part of the solution. We really can't afford not to be.

To the government's credit, there have been strides made to curb smoking rates through effective tobacco prevention programs that are in place and help to mitigate the increasing prevalence of COPD and other tobacco-related diseases. The Lung Association's report also suggests that earlier diagnosis yields a better outcome for COPD patients since it motivates them to quit smoking once they realize they have a disease that offers no cure. This alone can halt COPD's progression by up to 75 per cent for former smokers.

Asthma also has no cure but there are ways to manage it successfully. While it may appear mainstream to have every fourth or fifth kid in the classroom or on the soccer team carry a puffer, the question we need to ask before October 6 rolls around is how can we deliver quality care to everyone with asthma and contain costs at the same time? The Lung Association has sound recommendations within its call to the government for a lung health action plan. Whether that call is answered remains to be seen. You can check out the full report, called Your Lungs, Your Life at www.on.lung.ca and get to know some of the issues.

When your local candidates come knocking asking for your vote, perhaps it's time to return the favour. Ask if their party is prepared to commit to developing a lung health action plan to improve care and help get these costs under control. It makes sense now and in our kids' future

Kelly Muñoz is a respiratory therapist practicing in Ontario and chair of the Ontario Lung Association Board of Directors.