By Mary Boyd: National and provincial health coalitions are urging Canadians to cast our vote for health care, our most cherished social program. We need a federal government that fulfils its responsibility of providing both funding and national standards to ensure good health care for all Canadians.
Stephen Harper has a poor record in this regard. He let the Health Accord expire in 2014, leaving health care with no stable funding or national standards. We need a government willing to meet with the provinces and negotiate a New Health Accord with a recommitment to the Canada Health Act (CHA) and its requirements.
The Harper government’s refusal to renew the Heath Accord will reduce the federal share of funding by at least $36 billion to even $43 billion by 2025. Harper’s government also changed the funding formula to a per capita system causing a $16.5 billion federal reduction in transfer payments which began in 2014 and is spread over five years.
The smaller, poorer provinces are receiving less funding in spite of having large proportions of seniors and scattered rural populations. Prior to these changes, provision of healthcare was based on need which includes illness, demographics, or rural access, not population. In 2017, not far away, the rate of growth in funding will depend on each province’s GDP.
In addition, the Harper government’s tax cuts have reduced revenue by $41.5 billion per year, a sum close to the entire $44.7 billion annual health and social transfers to the provinces. Without better leadership we will have 14 fragmented health systems in the country and great disparities in care.
At present 9,000 Islanders have to go off Island yearly for treatment of serious illnesses such as heart, cancer, various surgeries and other medically necessary conditions at a cost of at least $46 million. Most people are reasonable and happy to receive that care. This is preferable to allowing private clinics which are outlawed under the Canada Health Act.
Frank Dobson, the former UK Health Minister, warns Canadians that private clinics are not working well in the UK. “They are a colossal and expensive failure... More things go wrong and 6,000 patients have to be transferred yearly back to the public system.” Private clinics take money out of our pockets and have higher death rates while delivering inferior services.
Yet Mr. Harper promotes that model under the code, “Alternative Health Delivery.” In the UK private clinics cost more and are being paid 11 per cent more than the public hospitals for the same services. As Mike McBane, former director of the Canadian Health Coalition wisely said, “If you use public money to pay for private services you will never have enough money for health care.” And Dobson warns, “They [private clinics] are not good medicine for people.” Private clinics undermine Medicare and make us vulnerable to challenges and fines under the trade agreements.
The trade agreements, in particular CETA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) promoted by the Harper government will have many negative impacts at national, provincial and municipal levels. Canada is the only country in the world with a public healthcare system that does not include the cost of medication. But the Harper government is extending patents on drugs by two years in CETA and the TPP.
This will increase the cost of drugs, give more profit and power to the large international pharmaceutical companies and set back a national drug plan that would save close to $11 billion annually while supplying the best and most effective medications free of charge. Islanders need to support this plan, as our drug coverage is very limited.
As well, our public system faces a strain of providing for our aging population without a National Strategy for Senior Care. It is the role of the federal government to provide leadership to ensure all seniors have access to home care, hospital care, long term care, hospice and palliative care as they need it.
Medicare has been good for Canadians. It is based on the great Canadian value that the poorest Canadian has the same right to the same medically necessary health care as the richest Canadian. It’s a value we need to keep. It defines us collectively as Canadians. We have been a thoughtful and caring society. We need a thoughtful and caring government.
Mary Boyd is chairperson, P.E.I. Health Coalition