In Defence of Canada’s Public Health System

Presentation by Ed Staples, Presdient, SOHC
Alex Atamanenko’s Public Forum
Princeton Legion Hall

November 14, 2012

The founding principle of health care in Canada is equality. This principle gave us the Canada Health Act which provides for equal access to quality health care regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you make. Unfortunately, this principle is under attack at both the provincial and federal level. These attacks come in the form of budget cuts justified by the alarmist message that health care costs are unsustainable.

Sustainability rationale is a myth. As a percentage of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, health care spending has remained steady at between 4 and 5% since 1975. The unsustainability myth is the result of governments portraying health care costs as a percentage of overall budget. What, in fact, has happened is that health care costs have remained level as support for other government sectors has decreased, resulting in a perceived percentage increase in health care costs. This perception is the justification used by government to cut back on health care budgets.

In solidarity with the BC Health Coalition, Princeton Save Our Hospital Coalition opposes any erosion of the Canada Health Act’s principles of universality, comprehensiveness, portability, accessibility, and public administration. We are against user fees, privatization, corporatization, and any other barriers to equal access to health care.

In 2004, federal and provincial first ministers signed a ten-year Canada Health Accord, identifying several priorities for health care reform in Canada, including:

  • reducing wait times and improving access;
  • home care;
  • primary health care reform, including electronic health records;
  • health research and innovation; and
  • accountability and reporting to citizens.

As mentioned previously, our public health care system reflects core Canadian values of equality and equal access. We need a new health accord that puts these values first. Public health care is affordable and sustainable. It’s privatization that we can’t afford.

According to the BC Health Coalition, renewal of the Health Accord in 2014 must be based on predictable, sustainable federal funding that includes a six percent escalator for a full ten years. Commitment to a federally financed Canada Health Transfer equalization formula will ensure we continue to build a fair, accountable and cost effective public health care system that provides high quality care for all Canadians. Unfortunately, the federal government has made it clear that they will not be taking these steps unless Canadians demand that they do.

In the 2009 discussion paper by the Society of Rural Physicians in Canada they state that “For Canadian health research we should aim for development and support of community based rural health research involving rural physicians and other health care providers.” SOHC agrees that research is essential to the understanding of the health care issues that face not only Princeton but all rural BC communities. We are working with researchers such as Dr. Barb Pesut of UBC Okanagan, Dr. Stefan Grzybowski of the Rural Health Services Resource Network, and Kristina Plamondon of IHA to conduct community based research with a goal to develop an improved and sustainable health care model for Princeton.

To summarize, this is how SOHC sees the problem:

  1. As a result of inadequate funding from provincial and federal governments rural remote areas of BC have witnessed a drastic reduction in health services over the past fifteen years. This has meant a loss of acute care beds, reduced accessibility, and scheduled closures of primary health care services.
  2. Movement toward the privatization of health services is creating a two tiered system where only those with money will be able to access the best health care. Instead of reducing costs, this system has the potential to raise the average cost of health care for all British Columbians.
  3. People on disability and seniors are the most at risk from recent changes. With the reduction in home support, home nursing and community services, the government expects those on fixed pensions to pay for private sector services out of their own pocket to keep them living comfortably and safely in their own homes.

So what should be done?

  1. We ask the Ministry of Health Services to stop hiding behind the myth of unsustainability and honor its obligation under the five principles of the Canada Health Act to provide equal access to health care for all citizens. Healthcare is sustainable.
  2. We ask the Federal Minister of Health to honour the Canada Health Act by accepting its responsibility to share health care funding equally with the provinces.
  3. We ask the BC Ministry of Health Services to address the problem of doctor shortages in rural remote communities by offering extra incentives, paid for through public funding. Communities should not have to compete with each other to attract doctors as they are presently forced to do.
  4. We recommend that Canadian medical schools aim for a representative proportion of rural to urban students, because at the present time 90% of medical students come from wealthy urban families. They traditionally return to their urban roots.
  5. We ask that medical students wanting to practice in rural areas receive enhanced training, so that they are highly and broadly skilled for a practice in rural remote communities. Princeton would benefit from this since we are officially classified as a rural remote community.
  6. We ask IHA listen to the people in their care and respect their needs.
  7. And we ask our Member of Parliament to encourage our federal government to stay at the health care table, negotiating with all provincial health ministers to establish a new Canada Health Accord that will provide adequate funding aimed at improving health care for all Canadians.

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