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The Georgia Straight: Liberals are the party of health care

By October 2, 2019 November 27th, 2019 No Comments

Liberals are the party of health care

by Dr. Hedy Fry

The Liberal Party of Canada has always championed health care.

Medicare was enacted under Liberal‎ prime minister Lester Pearson, and was strengthened with the Canada Health Act under Pierre Trudeau. It was made sustainable with new funding from Jean Chrétien after the Mulroney Conservatives cut provincial transfers.

Paul Martin’s government infused $41.2 billion into Medicare for a 10-year health accord to make the system more sustainable and change the way we deliver health care in this country. The Martin accord came with strings attached—goals like primary care reform, multidisciplinary clinics, lowered wait times, and a national pharmacare strategy.

Liberal governments will always defend and sustain medicare.

Martin’s accord, with its conditions for transparency and sustainability, was rendered useless by 10 years of neglect by the Harper government. Medicare is now under threat from another Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who has fundraised on the promise of user-pay and a private care system.

I have always been keenly interested and involved in developing health policy within the Liberal platform. Our plan, announced by Justin Trudeau, is the most progressive option during this election. I’m proud of it.

Many Canadians are not aware of the challenges facing Medicare today. Stephen Harper tried to walk away entirely, refusing to meet with provincial health ministers. The Conservatives also  unilaterally imposed a 50 percent cut in the health transfer increase to the provinces. This impacted health care delivery across the board.

Andrew Scheer wants to take us backward. The Dr. Brian Day case against Medicare, currently before B.C. Supreme Court, represents yet another challenge. We need a government to stand up for Medicare.

Our Liberal health platform specifically cracks down on extra billing and private delivery of care. These practices have been allowed in some provinces but clearly they’re a violation of the Canada Health Act.

The Martin government invested more than $10 billion in mental health services. It was a good start. The recent Liberal announcement proposes to finally place mental health services within the Canada Health Act, ensuring the five principles—accessibility, universality, portability, comprehensiveness, and public administration—will apply to mental health under a reelected Liberal government.

We’re bringing mental health into the Canada Health Act.

As a physician, I saw many of my patients struggle to afford the medications they needed. Some had to choose between putting food on the table or purchasing much-needed prescriptions.

Policy ideas from leaders like Steve Morgan of UBC and Marc André Gagnon of Carleton University are essential to the implementation of an effective, affordable, and efficient national pharmacare strategy.

Our plan will save us billions in the long-term and will also give access to the more than 20 percent of Canadians who cannot afford necessary treatment. Working with Drs. Gagnon and Morgan, I developed an implementation strategy with recommendations for Dr. Eric Hoskins, who chaired the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. We agreed on a way to achieve this in a fiscally viable manner. Justin Trudeau accepted that report, and now we’re moving forward.

We have also committed to increase access—in collaboration with provinces and territories—to family physicians and primary health care teams. The College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Canadian Nurses Association have been advocating hard for these policies and the funding needed to implement them. They’re right, and we’re taking action.

As Canadians age, chronic diseases increase. Multidisciplinary teams in community care clinics and home visits demonstrate the best and most cost-effective care and outcomes. The Liberal announcement of $6 billion over four years will increase primary care doctor residencies, training for other health professionals, infrastructure for clinics, and other incentives necessary to ensure every Canadian has access to a family physician.

The Liberal health platform is designed to improve public health outcomes by reducing opioid overdose deaths and addressing the social determinants of health—issues including poverty, housing, and climate change.

These investments in mental health care, primary care, and pharmacare constitute major changes that will improve outcomes in the health and quality of life for Canadians and will put medicare on a strong and sustainable future for generations to come.

On October 21st, we have a choice to make. Let’s choose forward.

Dr. Hedy Fry is the longest-serving female member of Parliament in Canadian history. She is the Liberal Party of Canada’s candidate in Vancouver Centre.

This opinion article first appeared in the Georgia Straight.