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The Council of the Federation and Health “Sustainability”: Huh?

The Council of the Federation released a statement on July 22nd from Vancouver commenting on their preparation for the 2014 Health Care Accord Renegotiation and the statement was…well….vague. The Council of the Federation, which is made up of first ministers from each province and territory across Canada gathers annually to discuss the most pressing issues of the year and health care was big on their agenda for 2011.

I was excited to read the report from their meeting. I was running a million questions through my head: which pressing issue in the health care system are they going to target; will they finally implement their pan-Canadian alliance to purchase common drugs or will they demand federal assistance and leadership for pharmacare; what will their action plan be to tackle hospital bed shortages; will they share best practices and start implementing a team-based approach in primary care; will they ask for financial assistance and hold Harper to his election promise of a six per cent escalator on the Canada Health Transfer (CHT)…?

So, what did they announce, you ask? That the “premiers are ensuing…sustainability…(they are) finding efficiencies…and, emphasizing healthy living, which will improve quality of life”.  So what changes are going to be made to our health care system as a result of this meeting? Your guess is as good as mine.

In fairness, the first ministers did report that they are negotiating access to drugs through the alliance and that they will be collaborating on clinical practice guidelines this winter with “interested stakeholder groups”. But really, it sounds like they met to establish when they should meet again.

With the renegotiation of the Canada Health Accord- which includes the Canada Health Transfer (a six per cent annual escalating transfer of funds from federal to provincial/territorial governments)- fast approaching,  provinces need to have a strategy set in place. The Federal government, led by Stephen Harper, a proponent of two-tiered health care systems, is likely going to try and push his own agenda in the CHA. Health care in Canada could forever be changed. It’s important that the provinces and territories have a strong plan in place. If Harper attempts a divide and conquer approach to negotiations and deals with each province/territory one-on-one, then the provincial/territorial governments need to hold on to the upper hand by using their united voice and sticking to a common plan.

The Council of the Federation has promised to meet again in the new year. Hopefully it won’t be too late by then to create a unified strategy.