Our Public Healthcare – Worth Fighting For

Jennifer McKenzie, The Daily Gleaner, September 20, 2017

 

Why do we have Public Healthcare in Canada?

When Tommy Douglas was six, he moved to Saskatchewan from Scotland.  When an old injury flared up, he was sent to hospital where he was told his leg would have to be amputated.   A well known orthopedic surgeon took an interest in his case and operated on his leg for free if his parents would allow his medical students to watch.  His leg was saved.  That only rich people could afford such surgery began to concern Tommy.

He went on to found the first social democratic party in Saskatchewan where he introduced the first single-payer universal health care program in North America.  Later, while he led the NDP which held the balance of power federally in the House of Commons,  Lester Pearson’s Liberal government introduced federal universal healthcare.

 

Why are New Brunswickers concerned?

Everyone knows a nurse who works in Extra Mural or Telehealth.  It is my niece, your sister or cousin, or his wife.  They are strong capable caring women and men with a huge capacity to love and care for their patients. Everyone knows someone who has benefited from their care.

Since the Gallant government announced their intention to transfer the management of the Extra Mural Program and Tele Health to Medavie Blue Cross, many New Brunswicker have expressed concern to me about their opposition to this privatisation of our public health services.

The Extra Mural program, which has been operated by the Horizon and Vitalite health authorities for many years, has earned praise across the country for providing a high quality of health care to residents in their own homes. It is the wrong move to allow a private company to administer this key piece of community health care.

 

Does this move contravene the Canada Health Act?

The federal government is responsible for insuring that these services conform to the five principles set out in the Canada Health Act in providing funding for health care services to the provinces.  The Act requires federally funded health care spending to be managed by public administration and operated on a not for profit basis.  That Medavie Blue Cross is a private ‘not for profit’ company does not mean that this test is met.

 

What can happen when Healthcare is not publicly administered?

I am also concerned about some of the performance factors which are to be used to give Medavie a bonus. For example, one of them is increased nurses’ visits or case load. Year over year, case loads will increase, stress levels will increase and patient care will suffer in order to meet this criteria.

Who do we call when things are not going well?  This move adds a layer of insulation to our publicly elected officials’ accountability, again, a  good reason for public administration by public servants.

We need people who are responsible to New Brunswickers to administer our healthcare, not people who are responsible to a private corporation with its own private interests.

 

What are the underlying trends that affect this move?

Indeed, there is now a disturbing trend by the Gallant government in supporting privatisation of Health Care: support for the private blood clinic in Moncton, privatization of dietary and other services in hospitals to Sodexo a French multi-national company, and now this transfer.

We are the oldest and fastest aging province in Canada. Even this government recognizes that healthcare spending must increase by over 4% per year because of our aging population.

Why then did Premier Gallant negotiate a healthcare formula with his federal Liberal counterparts that didn’t include aging?

New Brunswick economist Richard Saillant, director of the Donald J. Savoie Institute at University of Moncton trashed the health deal and called it ‘ironic’ that we – having the oldest population in the country – would be the first to accept a deal.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, average annual health care costs for seniors is almost five times higher than for Canadians under 65.  For those over 80, it is almost eight times higher.  This means that every year, funding will be squeezed more and more to meet our healthcare needs.  No wonder the Gallant government is trying to shelter itself from accountability.

 

What are our next moves?

We have Tommy Douglas to thank for single payer public healthcare and we have him to thank for all the care we receive under public healthcare.  He was visionary and we are better, healthier and happier for it.  This move to put the management of Extra Mural and Telehealth under a private company, Medavie Blue Cross, is not what Tommy envisioned.

There is only one way to fight this move – and those inevitably to follow – and that is to get involved politically.  I have now done this by becoming the leader of the only party that founded public healthcare and we continues to fight for it.  Join me!