How much do you know about the latest threat to public health care in Canada?
For most of us, it’s not very much. Most of us belong to an incredibly privileged group that has grown up with a public system that helps us manage chronic disease, provides us with free walk-in clinics and family doctors, and in crisis situations, pays for our hospital visits. Our system is available to every Canadian, and does not ask for more payment than what we pay in our taxes.
We are lucky enough to be able to take our health-care system for granted, to feel that it is our right as human beings and Canadian citizens. However, we may not be able to for much longer.
Early in 2015, there is a case going to trial that presents one of the greatest modern threats to Canadian Medicare. Dr. Brian Day, a Vancouver-based physician, has brought a constitutional challenge to the B.C. government, arguing that it is a Canadian “right” to have the option of choosing to spend one’s money on one’s health, rather than waiting on wait-lists for publicly funded interventions.
Day’s argument implies that those who have great financial resources deserve faster care than those who do not. It ignores the basic values of our current health-care system, where resources are distributed and care is provided based on the needs, rather than the economic situation, of the patient.
Should Day win his case, it will open the door to U.S.-style private clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Studies have shown that a two-tier system similar to the one he proposes leeches resources from the universally available public system to the more exclusive private system, as health-care professionals are drawn to work where they can choose their patients and charge whatever they wish for their interventions.
This leaves the public system with fewer human resources and more complicated patients, the simple cases having been “cherry-picked” by the private sector.
The greatest cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. is health-care-related debt. Almost two-thirds of those declaring bankruptcy due to their health bills had health insurance at the time of their illness. These are the same insurance companies and systems that Day invites into Canada by launching his case against Medicare.
Canadians overwhelmingly support and rely on our public health-care system. In many ways, it is part of the Canadian identity, something we take pride in. Should the Day case succeed, the development of a two-tiered health-care system across Canada would be inevitable.
This kind of public/private competition is far from the best way to promote good health for everyone; instead, a well supported, regulated and maintained public system accessible to everyone helps to maintain a high basic standard of life. This is what we are defending. This is what Canadian rights actually look like.
For information on the Brian Day case and what we can do to protect our public system, please visit www.savemedicare.ca.
Freija Walther, RN