26 Jul Premiers, Protect Public Health Care

Printed in the Chronicle Herald on July 26, 2012

Premiers, Protect Public Health Care
By Kyle Buott and Adrienne Silnicki

By 2014, the federal, provincial and territorial governments were supposed to negotiate a new Health Accord, an agreement that spells out how much support Ottawa will provide to make sure Canadians across the country have equal access to health care.

But instead of sitting down and negotiating with the premiers to improve public health care, Stephen Harper decided to dictate the terms of the new accord. Now, the Harper government is cutting $31 billion from health care between 2017 and 2024.

For Nova Scotia, this will represent a loss of about $154 million annually by the end of the period.

Public health care is supposed to be a cost-shared program. When medicare was created, the goal was a 50-50 cost sharing between the federal and provincial governments. Instead, since medicare’s creation, the federal government has been trying to reduce its role in public health care. Today in Nova Scotia, federal funding only provides for about 20 per cent of total health care costs.

The Health Accord also offers us opportunities for policy change. Like an umbrella, medicare should cover all of us. But medicare doesn’t cover chronic care patients who may require frequent assistance and would be most comfortable in a long-term care bed. There are too few of these beds available and, in some parts of Canada, they can cost upwards of $6,000 a month!

Medicare doesn’t cover the aging who, with some in-house support, might be able to remain safely in their own homes, as most seniors would prefer. But our provincial and federal governments rely on informal caregivers — friends or family members — because home care hours available under medicare are not enough for people to safely remain in their homes.

The medicare umbrella also needs to be extended to cover prescription medication with a Pharmacare program that would save provinces and individuals out-of-pocket expenditures on drugs of $10.7 billion a year.

The umbrella should also cover people with dental, vision and mental health service requirements. But now, it doesn’t.

Without Harper back at the 2014 Health Accord negotiating table, the medicare umbrella will continue to shrink. Fewer programs and people will be covered by provinces when costs and responsibilities are downloaded onto them. Without an active federal government enforcing the Canada Health Act and inspecting the provinces to ensure they’re complying with that act, the umbrella could break or the next storm could simply blow it away.

To their credit, Canada’s premiers have mostly opposed the federal cuts and Harper’s subsequent absence from the negotiating table. Canadians need the premiers to stand up and force the federal government back to the negotiating table. Some, like Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, are standing up to Stephen Harper. Others, like British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford, seem to support Harper’s cuts.

The premiers are now in Halifax at the Council of the Federation. The future of health care is on their agenda. This is the opportunity to protect, strengthen and expand health care. Premiers, Canadians are watching. Stand up to Stephen Harper. Protect public health care.

Kyle Buott is co-ordinator, Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network, and Adrienne Silnicki is health care campaigner, Council of Canadians.