Medicare: Canadians can afford compassion

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Mary Boyd: long-time social justice activist
 and Chair of the Prince Edward Island Health Coalition in Ottawa during National Medicare
Week 2012
Mary Boyd: Long-time social justice activist
 and Chair of the Prince Edward Island Health Coalition in Ottawa during National Medicare 
Week 2012.Credit: Brad Duplesis, CHC

The public health care system in Canada is among the most powerful and concrete manifestations of our country’s social justice values. Through the tax system, we collectively pool our resources and redistribute them to tend to the sick, regardless of gender, socio-economic status, or age.

This system has room for improvement and innovation. But it works – and it works well. Ask those of us who have had healthy babies at home with a midwife or by caesarian in a hospital; whose fathers have recovered from surgery for prostate cancer, or whose friends have undergone successful treatments for breast cancer; whose children have been hospitalized for asthma and then released, vibrant and energetic once more. Medicare is a remarkable expression of our collectivity – one which has saved lives and raised our quality of life without bankrupting us individually.

Total health care expenditures in Canada have a public component, referred to as “Medicare” (including services provided in hospitals and by doctors) as well as a private component (including pharmaceuticals in most provinces and dental services). It is the market-driven private component that has increased the most in cost, not the publicly insured component. For example, private health insurance spending has increased 365% over the last 25 years. When it comes to health care, private does not mean more cost-efficient.

Myths abound about the fiscal unsustainability of Medicare. Over the last 35 years, the costs of Medicare have remained stable at 4% to 5% of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Health care providers have found efficiencies in delivering care, particularly in the hospital sector, which comprises a huge proportion of the Medicare system.

What has increased is the proportion of provincial budgets dedicated to Medicare. Provincial governments today spend a larger percentage of their budgets on health care than ever before. This phenomenon is not due to the rising cost of publicly funded health care. It is a result of shrinking government revenues due to tax cuts. Those of us who are wealthy now pay less tax than 30 years ago. Corporate taxes are lower than ever before. As a society we are able to pay for public health care. However, as a society, we are electing to reduce this ability when we pool fewer resources through taxation.

Inter Pares supports the Canadian Health Coalition (CHC) because health care is a critical social justice issue. The CHC advocates for the five pillars of the Canadian Health Act – comprehensiveness, portability, accessibility, public administration, and universality. It also provides research, analysis, and information on important health care issues to the public and to those working to improve the system.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, we live in a richer country now than we have in decades. We can afford our public health care system. However, we must collectively choose to do so.

Medicare is a remarkable expression of our collectivity – one which has saved lives and raised our quality of life without bankrupting us individually.

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