Tag Archives: Canadian Health Coalition

Thanksgiving: Here’s to our allies working for the public interest

Photograph of coalition march from 2008.

Marching on Queen’s Park in 2008. OPSEU remains proud to be one of the founding organizations behind the Ontario Health Coalition. This weekend we give thanks to our allies who have kept the public interest at the center of the health care reform debate.

Recently the UK Guardian reported on Sweden’s rejection of tax cuts and privatization by returning the Social Democrats to power. Eight years’ experience with privatization of public services didn’t leave Swedes feeling confident about the broadening control of public services by private interests.

“For years, people had been accusing schools run by private equity of pocketing the state’s money and putting it into their offshore bank accounts,” said one education stakeholder, “but now it looked like these companies weren’t even capable of running a business properly.”

Facing a similar choice in Ontario’s last general election, voters also rejected Tim Hudak’s promise of more tax cuts and more job cuts and privatization in the public sector.

There is no question that there is an ideological conflict going on over the future of health care delivery in Canada.

Public and private spending on health care across the country is about $200 billion. That’s a very attractive target for those who recognize that even shifting a small share of that pie from the public to private sphere can result in very handsome profits.

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Make history — meet us in Niagara-on-the-lake July 24-25

Shadow-Summit-and-RallyIt’s the last meeting of the provincial Premiers before the 10-year 2004 health accord expires. With the expiry of that accord, so too goes any concerted effort to implement a national strategy to fix health care.

July 24-25 the Premiers will get together at Niagara-on-the-Lake. We’ll be there too alongside community and labour representatives from across Canada gathered to send a united message that a public health strategy is essential to address the changing needs of our nation.

In fact, with no accord past 2014, there won’t be national targets for such issues as wait times, emergency room access, or coverage for catastrophic drug costs. Nor will the Health Council of Canada be in existence to monitor those targets. The Harper government has already said the Health Council will be dismantled with the end of the accord.

Download the registration form here: Shadow Summit Registration Form

Details re Toronto Region 5 bus to the rally at right.

While the Federal government is the fifth largest direct provider of public health care in Canada, they oddly don’t think they have a place at the table when it comes to deciding how to best support the health needs of everyone in this country.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has told the provinces they will continue to get six per cent increases in federal health transfers until after the next election. Then the funding will slide up and down with the economy – essentially reducing funding at precisely the moments when it is most needed.

Our Medicare system is basically the same one that came into being in 1966. It’s heavily focused on acute care delivery – the definition of essential health care mostly confined to doctors and hospitals.

The reality is our population is aging and health care needs are changing. So are the places from which health care is delivered. We have great need for better chronic and long-term care. We need to move beyond the patchwork systems of home care, something former Royal Commissioner Roy Romanow called the next essential service. This spring the movement for universal public drug coverage has been gathering steam as the analysis shows that Pharmacare could save billions of dollars in health care costs. Last year a national mental health strategy was unveiled — it will take considerable political will to get it implemented.

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Canada could have universal drug coverage without raising taxes – Morgan

The UK's John Abraham on a panel with Carelton University's Marc Andre Gagnon.

The UK’s John Abraham on a panel with Carleton University’s Marc Andre Gagnon.

10 things we learned from last week’s Ottawa conference on drug coverage hosted by the Canadian Health Coalition and Carleton University:

1. The University of British Columbia’s Steven Morgan noted that if Canada were to adopt the UK’s public drug plan without any changes, it would “be enough to pay for universal Pharmacare in Canada at current rates. We would not have to increase taxes.” Carleton University’s Marc Andre Gagnon says Canada could save $10.7 billion on pharmaceutical costs with a universal drug plan. The question is not can we afford universal drug coverage, but can we afford not to?

2. We’ve reported in several posts on how Canada and the U.S. are outliers when it comes to a universal drug plan for our citizens. This has been the case for a very long time. The international panel noted many countries adopted universal access to prescriptions shortly after World War II. France adopted its social insurance system in 1945 while Britain was a few years behind in starting the National Health System in 1948, quickly adding prescriptions to it in 1952. More recent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland abolished all prescription charges, whereas England charges about 5 per cent co-pay on the cost of drugs in its Pharmacare program.

3. New Zealand has among the lowest drug costs in the world. They do this by placing a cap on total drug spending and making pharmaceutical companies bid on a share of that pie. The drawback is it does tend to slow the speed in which expensive new drugs become available, but does succeed in providing universal access to needed medications. There is a small co-pay of about $5 per prescription. There is no co-pay after 20 prescriptions are filled annually. There is practically no private coverage for pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. According to Matthew Brougham, former CEO of PHARMAC, New Zealand has been able to limit the increase in drug pricing over the last decade to 3 per cent per year compared to 9-10 per cent increases worldwide. While Canadian politicians claim they cannot afford to introduce Pharmacare, New Zealand adopted such a system precisely because the country was in dire economic circumstances.

4. The lack of universal drug coverage in Canada has not been for want of evidence or trying. Dr. Joel Lexchin of York University noted in his opening remarks that the Hall Commission recommended it in 1964, the National Health Forum did so in 1997, and it is now policy for both the federal Liberals and NDP. Lexchin says Canada’s Pharmaceutical policy resembles the U.S. health care system – some private coverage, some public, and a lot of people who have nothing. “This is not a pie in the sky scheme,” he said, noting Saskatchewan formerly had universal drug coverage.

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Federal health minister missing in action (again) during major conference on drug coverage

Jeff Connell (Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association) says Ontario spend $24 million more than they needed to by delaying adoption of the generic version of just one drug -- Crestor -- into the provincial formulary.

Jeff Connell (Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association) says Ontario spend $24 million more than they needed to by delaying adoption of the generic version of just one drug — Crestor — into the provincial formulary.

OTTAWA – Experts came from as far away as France, the United Kingdom and even New Zealand. Politicians from both the NDP and Liberals were there, as well as academics and policy-makers from across Canada. But Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Federal Minister of Health, couldn’t travel the few blocks from Parliament Hill to Ottawa’s National Hotel to participate in a national forum on pharmaceutical policy.

She might have been excused had her schedule not allowed her to come, but her letter to organizer Michael McBane stated “the subject matter of this conference has to do with health care delivery, which is a provincial and territorial responsibility.”

The question is, why is Aglukkaq so blatantly misrepresenting the Federal government’s responsibilities around both health care and pharmaceutical policy?

As we pointed out yesterday, the Federal government is the fifth largest direct provider of health care in Canada. They have a constitutional responsibility for health care to both First Nations and Inuit communities. They also have a responsibility to provide health care to specific groups within society, including veterans, refugees claimants, federal inmates, the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.

Forgetting even all of this, the Federal government also has a very specific role around pharmaceuticals, including approval and labeling of new prescription drugs as well as patent rights. They also regulate prices.

There is a sign here on Wellington Street that tells visitors the distance to both war and civilization, a reference to the two major museums. War is closer. Had the conference been about the war on drugs, rather than how to make civilization with a national Pharmacare program, the Feds might have actually been here. While the Federal Minister shows no interest in the savings that could be reaped from a national drug plan, the Federal government has been active in sending support to Mexico to fight the war on drugs.

This is not the first major conference on Pharmacare Aglukkaq has absented herself from. Representatives from industry, patient groups, labour, and even the Conservative-friendly National Citizen’s Coalition were in Vancouver earlier this year to discuss how we could better coordinate a national strategy to provide universal coverage to Canadians for prescription drugs.

Guess she had something else to do that week too.

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Federal health funding scheduled to drop when it most needed — McBane

Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition speaks to the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat meeting Thursday. Seated next to him is NUPGE's Len Bush.

Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition speaks to the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat meeting Thursday. Seated next to him is NUPGE’s Len Bush.

OTTAWA – In the late 1970s it was Monique Begin, then Federal Minister of Health and Welfare, who suggested that citizens needed to mobilize into coalitions to make noise in society to get anything to work.

As Michael McBane, the present National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition said Thursday, “governments are not likely to see the light first.”

In 1979 the Canadian Health Coalition began, with many of the provinces quickly following suit with their own coalitions, including the Ontario Health Coalition.

The first project the national coalition embarked on was a campaign to abolish extra billing by doctors. Charging user fees over and beyond those provided by Medicare, the campaign eventually led to a ban on extra billing as part of the new Canada Health Act passed in 1984.

Speaking before the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat in Ottawa yesterday, McBane says that while some things have changed, we are still fighting similar “zombie” ideas that keep on coming back.

Today the coalition is again fighting extra billing by private clinics, this time without a federal government willing to enforce the principles of the Canada Health Act.

“We no longer have three parties that believe in Medicare,” says McBane.

Transfer payments from the Federal government to the provinces was originally intended to allow Canadians to access consistent national standards of health care regardless of where they lived.

The Harper government is clearly on another path.

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Medicare advocate Dr. Gordon Guyatt to be awarded Order of Canada

We are overdue in extending our congratulations to Dr. Gordon Guyatt who is to be awarded the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston later this year.

Dr. Guyatt is professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatics at Hamilton’s McMaster Unversity, but is best known to Ontarians as a passionate advocate for public Medicare.

The end of the year announcement is officially for Guyatt’s contributions “to the advancement of evidence-based medicine and its teaching.”

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Public or private, there is only one health care funder — us

On Wednesday former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow expressed some regret over the cuts he made to health care while his province faced a tough economy. Speaking at a Canadian Health Coalition forum in Ottawa, Romanow admitted that pushing health care costs on to individuals was a false economy. The cuts have also created a lasting legacy for his political party, which has struggled to maintain seats in rural Saskatchewan after closure of many small town hospitals. This may be a direct lesson for Dalton McGuinty, whose government has itself toyed with the idea of reducing the scope of services at rural hospitals and delisted some OHIP coverage, particularly around physiotherapy, eye examinations, and chiropractic care.

Whether we pay through our tax dollars, or pay out-of-pocket, as Canadians we still pay. Evidence would suggest the difference between the two is a single-payer (tax-funded) health system is far more efficient and equitable.

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