On March 13, Canadians got a new hero in the form of Dr. Danielle Martin, a Toronto physician who stood before a US Senate subcommittee and vigorously defended Canada’s single-payer system to an anti-Obamacare Republican. Social media lit up, and she became the hot topic as she stood up for Canada’s universal health care system.
In many a show-down, Canadians are none too shy about holding our health care system up as a point of pride, especially compared to the costly and often inaccessible multi-tiered system in the US.
Dr. Martin’s flash of fame is a reminder of just how valued our health care system is, but what her new fans may be missing is that we are in danger of losing the quality of health care that we’ve come to count on and brag about to our neighbours from the South.
The Canadian Health Accord was a 10-year agreement for funding and health care service delivery between the federal and the provincial and territorial governments. It came to be after the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, an in-depth study of Canada’s health care system led by Roy Romanow. The Romanow Report, as it is often called, highlighted the need to strengthen federal health support through the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) in order to decrease wait times and provide a better level of care in all provinces and territories for the long term.
This accord expires today, March 31, 2014.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ignored the call of the provincial and territorial governments to work on a new agreement and has shockingly announced the equivalent of $36 billion in cuts to the CHT over 10 years, starting after the federal election in 2015.
In the current accord, the CHT increases by 6 per cent per year, to accommodate for inflating costs and increased demand on the system and to meet goals of decreasing wait times and improving patient care. In Harper’s new plan, the CHT will be tied to Canadian economic growth for increases, with a 3 per cent floor – cutting in half the amount currently guaranteed to the provinces and territories.
What does this mean? It means that the quality of health care you receive will depend largely on your postal code, and in nearly every province and territory, the level of care will be lower than it is today due to the decreased federal funding formula. Already, we are seeing provincial and territorial governments struggle with the budgets they have. Canada’s population is aging, and yet the Harper plan does not correspond to the needs of Canadians, nor is it guided by goals to improve and standardize the level of care across the country.
In every election, health care is one of if not the primary issue that Canadians are concerned about. It is an issue that touches us all, regardless of age or income. If we want to be able to count on high-quality health care for our parents, our children and ourselves, we must speak to our members of Parliament and demand a new negotiated Health Accord. It’s up to all of us to ensure our health care remains one of those values that define us as Canadians. It’s up to all of us to ensure it survives the Harper government’s neglect.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic Regional Director of Unifor which represents some 26,000 health care workers nationwide.