Canadians debate health care

Responding to mass pressures, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has released a long-awaited 356-page report proposing changes that will make an already good national health program even better.

In Canada, everyone is covered by the national plan; they don’t have the Canadian equivalent of 45 million people with no health insurance and another 60 million-plus with limited coverage.

Some of the 47 recommendations proposed by the report, authored by Roy Romanow include:

* Adoption of a Canadian Health Covenant that would renew the government’s commitment to a universally accessible, publicly funded, health care system;

* Establishment of a Health Council of Canada to foster cooperation between provincial, territorial and federal governments;

* Amending the Canadian Health Act to cover the cost of most home care services and prescription drugs; clarifying coverage for diagnostic services and creating a dispute resolution process;

* Amending the Criminal Code of Canada to make it illegal to misuse patient health information;

* Establishing a national immunization program to inoculate all children against childhood diseases;

* Using the newly-created Rural and Remote Access Fund to attract and retain health care providers in remote areas of the country;

* Creation of a program to allow caregivers to spend time away from work in order to care for a family member at home “at critical times.”

* Creation of a new National Drug Agency to evaluate and approve new prescription drugs.

Two of the report’s recommendations relate to Canada’s international responsibilities:

* Ottawa should play a more active leadership role in international efforts to assist developing nations in strengthening their health-care systems;

* Canada should rely less on recruiting health care professionals from developing countries.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees [CUPE], which represents most workers in the Canadian health system, has an in-depth understanding and analysis of the needs of that system. “We now have a blueprint for action. It’s time for a fully public system,” stated Judy Darcy, CUPE national president. “Commissioner Romanow is right on the mark when he says for-profit health care won’t improve access or quality. And that’s true for the full range of services at the heart of heathcare.”

But CUPE leaders also warned that the report leaves the door open to privatization of key patient services in hospital settings.

A meeting of labor health advocates from the western hemisphere is urgently needed. These labor representatives should come from health care unions and unions interested in a national health program. Given the fact that a key provision of the Free Trade Area of the Americas allows the U.S. medical/industrial complex to penetrate the markets of the region, there is much U.S. representatives could tell about the evils of the U.S. system which denies health care to millions of people. And, labor leaders in the USA can gain valuable information as they move toward making health care reform a major demand in the 2004 election.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org