Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 20, 2005
Health for all — not just the few
The identity of Canada can be found in many aspects of our culture - our songwriters, our sports, our festivities and our respect for diversity, among other factors.
Two of the most prized aspects of our social and political culture have been the widespread acceptance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the belief that government-funded health care should be universally available.
Now the Supreme Court has ruled - or at least given notice that it will rule - that when the Charter right to good health care is in conflict with the ability of the public purse to pay for health care, the charter right will triumph. People should be able to get a high level of health care, even if the government won't - or can't - pay for it.
In the short term, this makes moral sense. People should not be prevented from paying for their health care needs if the publicly-funded system is so inefficient that it cannot meet those needs within a reasonable length of time.
It is the probable long-term consequence that gives us pause. We are rightly concerned that increasing privatization of health care will lead to a two-tier system. The wealthy will be able to get good quality care by paying for it while the rest of us will have to be satisfied with a public system that is increasingly underfunded and where waiting lines grow ever longer.
It is probable that the growth of privatized health care will hasten the decline of the public system. First, the wealthiest and most influential individuals will no longer have cause to advocate for a high level of public care.
Second, medical technology is likely to continue to improve (which is a good thing) and to increase the cost of maintaining a current and effective public health care system. Medicare has already been staggered by escalating costs for treatments undreamt of when the public system was devised in the 1960s. The escalation is likely to continue.
Third, most of the best doctors and other health-care professionals will be drawn to the private system where the financial rewards will be greater.
Fourth, Canada has an aging population that will have greater and greater health-care demands in the decades ahead.
Governments bear a significant part of the responsibility for the decline in public health care. They have been quick to churn out reports with numerous recommendations for improving the system but slow to implement those recommendations.
Poverty is a major contributor to poor health care. But despite a pious resolution to end child poverty in Canada by 2000, the federal government has done little to reduce the amount of poverty and the subsequent strain it places on the health care system.
Then there is the resistance of individuals to taking the steps necessary to improve their own health prospects. While it has long been know various behaviours increase the likelihood of major diseases - the obesity rate, for example - is increasing rapidly. The expansion of health care costs cannot be separated from the fact that Canada is growing more sedentary.
Further, the failure of recent generations of adults to bear enough children to maintain the current population level is bearing its bitter fruit. As the population ages, an increasing financial burden for health care, pensions and education is being carried by a smaller proportion of Canadians. As individuals, we have a responsibility to do what we can to maintain our health, not only for our own well being, but also for the common good.
Governments also must become more responsible in implementing health-care reforms that ensure the publicly-funded system provides the general population with a high level of service.
The Supreme Court placed a high value on the health of individuals. We must develop a system that will protect the health of all people, not just a select few.
- Glen Argan
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