BC seniors call for federal leadership
to strengthen public health care

BC’s largest federation of seniors has called on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to negotiate “a new comprehensive health accord that protects, transforms and strengthens our national health care system.”

At a special meeting held in Vancouver on Friday – 11 days after the expiry of the national health accord – about 100 seniors unanimously adopted a declaration that quality health care must be available to every resident of Canada without discrimination, and regardless of ability to pay.

“All levels of government have a role to play in the delivery of quality and accessible health care,” Lorraine Logan, president of the 107,000 member Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C. (COSCO), said in a statement released after the meeting.

“The federal government should give strong leadership in enforcing national standards, not walking away from the table and refusing to negotiate a new accord,” she said.

“To ensure Medicare is not fragmented, Ottawa must provide coordination, foster innovation, and provide financial support at a level that secures the integrity of the 1984 Canada Health Act.”

The meeting of COSCO delegates heard from three health policy experts on the issue.

Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition said the federal government has launched a “stealth attack” on Medicare, with reductions in funding scheduled for future years.

“We need a national debate, a national conversation on the future of Medicare,” said McBane, adding that the withdrawal of federal leadership will lead to a fragmentation of service.

“This is a fight to maintain access so people can get care based on need.”

Wendell Potter, former head of communications at a large health insurance company in the USA, said he walked away from his job when he realized private corporations were not improving access, were not improving quality of care, and looked on health care as a major profit centre.

“With help from the Fraser Institute, the company misinformed Americans about Canada’s health care system, calling it ‘the slippery slope to socialism,’” said Potter.

He called on Canadians to carefully examine the misleading language used by those who promote privatization.

“Sound the alarm” Potter said. “You can lose Medicare for yourselves, your children, your grandchildren and future generations.”

Alex Himelfarb — director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University, former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet for three prime ministers — said that private health care is far more expensive and has longer wait times.

Himelfarb called for a national Pharmacare program, a better approach to care for chronic illness, and the integration of home care and home support into Medicare.

“Countries that have done that have a more sustainable health care system than we have,” he said. “We have lots of work to do to make Medicare strong, better and more affordable. We need a clear vision for the future. We need federal leadership — and we don’t have it,” he said.

Seniors at the meeting expressed outrage that the federal government has refused to negotiate a new health accord, effectively ending Medicare as a national program.

They were also frustrated that four BC Conservative Members of Parliament — including Richmond MP Alice Wong, the minister of state for seniors — have refused to meet with them to discuss these issues.