Universal Health Care – Chapter 2 – National Pharmacare: Canadian Health Coalition

As Canadians, we tend to be rather proud of our public healthcare system, scoffing at our Southern neighbor’s patchwork solutions and their latest president’s attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act. However, the system we so often take for granted hasn’t been around for very long, and its developing stages were – and still are – fraught with challenges. A growing concern is affordability not for healthcare services, but rather for the increasingly expensive prescription drugs patients require for treatment

Universal healthcare did not come easily to Canada. Before it was passed into law, the Medical Care Act was fiercely opposed by various members and representatives of the medical industry. Noticing the vulnerability of this act in the face of privatization, the S.O.S Medicare conference of 1979 saw Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas address the need for an external body fighting to maintain universal access to healthcare. It was during this conference that the Canadian Health Coalition (CHC) entered the debate.

The CHC is comprised of national organizations representing health care workers, nurses, seniors, churches, anti-poverty groups, women, and trade unions, as well as affiliated coalitions in 9 provinces and 1 territory.

The CHC’s mandate is to protect the public healthcare system while also advocating for its improvement. Accepting universal healthcare as a given makes Canadians more likely to ignore the very real challenges the system faces, most notably an increase in the number and range of services being privatized, and the increase in “user fees” which slowly lead to a gradual weakening of the universality premise and leads to a two-tier healthcare system by stealth. Adrienne Silnicki, National Coordinator for the CHC, says that the desire of government to jettison responsibility and privatize many health care services is the reason wait times can be long. A second private tier of health care would only make matters worse.

“Canada doesn’t have enough specialists, we don’t have enough radiologists, we don’t have enough people who can read a lot of the diagnostic imaging, certainly not for two systems,” she said.

“We need those resources to continue in the public system so we can make sure that no matter where you live in Canada or what your ability to pay is, you have access to high quality, fast healthcare.”

With an increase in healthcare privatization, it’s also unclear whether our healthcare would still be protected by the exemptions outlined under NAFTA. Without a new Health Accord and a united funding agreement between the federal government and the provinces and territories, public funding for healthcare risks facing further cuts, rendering Medicare all the more vulnerable to a shift towards private healthcare. In addition to defending public health care and a renewed Health Accord, the CHC also seeks to address elements crucial to any healthcare system which ours has neglected, such as proper long-term care for seniors and a national public drug plan, which would grant Canada the national bargaining power needed to lower the price of both patent and generic drugs during negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.

Of course, for such a comprehensive expanding of our public healthcare to materialize, the support of both the Canadian population and those working in the medical industry is required. With over 90% of Canadians agreeing to a system in which the quality of care you receive doesn’t reflect the size of your wallet, public support is alive and well. Ditto for medical practitioners, who have voiced their opinion in internal votes through the Canadian Medical Association and other groups.

“Healthcare professionals work in the system for a reason: they know it can work, they just need the resources to make that happen,” Silnicki said.

Canada is celebrating another 50 years of Confederation since the Medical Care Act was passed, and the debate surrounding the future of the nation’s healthcare continues to be just as heated. The CHC certainly has a lot on their plate if they want to ensure our healthcare system remains protected, yet their commitment to their mandate and popular support have kept them as key figures in our political scene, a position they will surely maintain for years to come. It appears they will be a key player in writing chapter two of the universal healthcare story. That chapter will be titled universal Pharmacare.