Tories favour private health care: Fry
MONTREAL — Liberal health critic Hedy Fry suggested that the Harper government is undermining a 10-year accord with the provinces to press an agenda that favours private health care.
Fry, a physician and former president of the B.C. Medical Association, was a guest speaker at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors June 27 on the topic “Ensuring the Future of Medicare: The Role of the Federal Government.”
Fry said that medicare, as it has been known since the 1960s, is in jeopardy because of the majority the Conservative party holds.
She said the government has done nothing to see that the agreement on health-care funding, signed in 2004 by Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and the provinces and territories, is implemented as was foreseen at the time.
The money involved, totalling $41.2 billion, is continuing to be transferred to the provinces and territories, but there is no longer any oversight of how it is spent and whether the agreement’s objectives are being met, she said.
“If I wanted to be cynical, I would say, in 2014, the government is going to throw up its hands and say, ‘You see, we tried, the system isn’t working, going private is the answer,’” Fry said.
The aim of the infusion of new cash from Ottawa was to encourage more community-based health services and move away from the traditional focus on medical care delivered in hospitals, she said.
“Today, it’s not only doctors who can deliver health care, and a hospital is not usually the best place to be cared for, unless the situation is acute and specialized care is needed,” she said.
To ensure the sustainability of medicare, Fry said, the emphasis must be on multi-disciplinary community or home-based services. It’s less costly and, in most cases, better for the patient, especially those with chronic ills.
Some provinces have moved in this direction, but others have failed to do so, and may be using the federal money “to pave the streets,” she said. “The provinces have been left on their own.”
Mechanisms were put in place to track the accord’s progress in reaching its goals, she said. These were abandoned with the election of the Conservatives in 2006, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never met with the premiers and territorial leaders to discuss it, she said.
The wealthier provinces may be able to improve the health-care system, but the others probably won’t, and will likely cut services, because raising taxes in economic hard times is not an option, Fry said. The result, she said, will be varying levels of care from province to province, something the Canada Health Act did not envision.
In addition, the 2004 accord foresaw the introduction of pharmacare and the licensing of doctors and nurses to work in any province, but no headway has been made on these points either, she said.
Fry, the member for Vancouver Centre since 1993, said medicare was the main reason she, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, immigrated to Canada from Britain in 1970.
She and her husband had become disillusioned with the deterioration of the national health system in Britain, caused, she believed, by the privatization of some services.
Having had parents with very limited means (the family lived in social housing until she was 13), Fry, 70, said she understood early on the unfairness of linking income to health-care access.
She warned that under a U.S.-style private system, those who have chronic illnesses requiring expensive treatment may find themselves uninsurable, even if they are able to pay ever-escalating premiums.