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Response to Michael Bliss

Canadians pride themselves on the Canada Health Act and we hold it as an example of what makes us unique and apart from other OECD countries, particularly the United States. The Canada Health Act enshrines Canadian values. It shows that we care more about equality and looking after each other than wealth. So when people like Michael Bliss write about the need to hold another royal commission on health care less than 10 years after the previous one was completed and has yet to be implemented, many of us rightly get annoyed.

The majority of Canadians don’t consider spending money on health care to be “throwing more money at a system” (in the words of Mr. Bliss). Eighty-six per cent of Canadians support expanding publicly funded health care. We know that investing money in our publicly funded health care system grants us better and more comprehensive care. We hope that soon it will grant us access to a wider range of public health care services.  In fact, several research papers in recent months have shown that an expansion of public services could save us billions of dollars a year. Pharmacare, for example, could actually save Canadians $10.7 billion!

We’ve had several royal commissions and inquiries held on health care; three in the past 16 years.  The most recently completed is known as the Romanow Report. It is still extensively cited within the health care community.  Many of Romanow’s suggestions were contained in Tommy Douglas’ phase two of the universal health care plan. Those suggestions were to expand medicare to home care, pharmacare, long term care, and community care. It was also about better management of health care and the move towards teamwork, innovation and using evidence-based practices. Unlike the P3 (public-private partnership) model, favoured by the conservative government, which may balance the budget today but will require Canadians to pay more in the long-run, many of Romanow’s suggestions will in fact save Canadians money over time.

What surprises many Canadians is how sustainable our current model of health care is. There is a lot of rhetoric about Canada not being able to afford its medical system. Yet, the increase in the public health system is minimal. The cost of the public health care system has remained fairly stable at about 5-7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1980-2009.  Where the costs are rising quickest is in the private health care sector, especially with the soaring cost of prescription drugs which increases by 7.5-10 per cent per year. The public model is the only sustainable model for Canadians. We can’t afford to keep privatizing our health care services!

Election time is when we should be asking our government what they’re planning to do for Canadians. Where do they see our public health care heading? Are they committed to enforcing the principles and provisions of the Canada Health Act? Will they expand the CHA or create stand-alone legislation to publicly deliver health services like home care and pharmacare, both areas that 86 per cent of Canadians see as important.

Additionally, the next elected government will be negotiating the 2014 Canada health care accord, which will determine how much money we transfer from the federal to provincial governments for health care services. We need to make sure that the next government of Canada is willing to protect our most cherished social programme. With health care remaining the number one issue in the 2011 election debate, it’s crucial that Canadians ask the questions and demand the answers they need to make an informed decision. It’s time for Canadians to show our government that profit is not the cure. On May 2nd, vote for public health care.

Adrienne Silnicki
Health Care Campaigner, Council of Canadians