Keeping Our Eyes Open to Health Care Challenges

 News that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has warned that Canada’s aging population presents significant challenges to our health care system is not overly surprising. New Democrats have long recognized the real challenges facing the delivery of health care services in Canada.

In the North, we have unique circumstances that only compound the challenges our healthcare system faces. At a forum on health care in Espanola last week, Provincial NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath and I heard first-hand from hospital officials, city council and the public about the challenges they face and suggestions about how the delivery of health services could be optimized for their community - although many of the issues raised were applicable to all communities as they struggle to get the best value for health care dollars.

The forum highlighted the fact that multiple levels of government are involved in the delivery of health services, and the need for the service to appear seamless for those in need. I was particularly struck by the comments of a grandfather who advocated on behalf of a comprehensive autism strategy and also by the struggles of northern hospitals that seem to be continually looking to fill vacancies in critical positions.

For our growing senior population, many of the ways they will use our health care system can be optimized to help avoid hospital visits and stays. New Democrats have presented legislation to improve the Canada Pension Plan and to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement in order to bring all seniors out of poverty. The link between poverty and health is well documented. The first step in preventing a health care crisis is to ensure that our seniors are not living in poverty.

There are several things we can do to reduce Health Care costs while maintaining our treasured public medicare, such as heeding the call for a National Pharmacare Plan. Experts have estimated that a pharmacare program could reduce drug costs by billions which would ease the strain on the Provinces’ stretched health care dollars.

What must be kept in perspective is that the CMA has issued a warning to help facilitate debate and that there is no need to panic, no need to start talking about privatization and no reason to implement user fees. What we need is to keep Canadians healthier earlier on in life. What that will take is a government that believes a pro-active approach to health care is a good thing. All too often bold steps are avoided because of the premium put on initiatives with a quick turnaround. The tight nature of the recent stimulus budget, with a premium put on deadlines as opposed to need, is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

If you look at our most recent census data, you will see that we have a large population of seniors in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing. Any decisions that affect health service delivery for seniors will be important to this constituency. I hope to hear from more constituents on the issue and invite you to bring your views to my attention.