TORONTO (CNS) — Officials at Canada’s largest Catholic hospitals and health services expressed concern that national health care standards are becoming a thing of the past after provincial and territorial leaders did not address the issue at their July Council of the Federation meetings.
Health was not the top of the agenda for premiers gathered in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, July 24-26 and not much got done to ensure a sustainable national health care system, said James Roche, executive director of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.
As part of the Health Action Lobby, the alliance had urged provincial premiers to address coming funding shortfalls and federal government reluctance to enforce the Canada Health Act. The basic question is, “Are the provinces really committed to a national health system?” Roche said.
“I don’t think health care was really that big an issue at the gathering, and I suppose that’s understandable,” Roche said. “(We) have always been concerned about a national perspective for health care and we didn’t hear much about the fact that this meeting of the Council of the Federation is the last one that will take place prior to expiration of the (2004) health accord.”
The accord, which set forth an ambitious plan governing the delivery of health care services, expires in 2014.
It would have been helpful to have Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Minister of Health Rona Ambrose at the meeting with provincial premiers, Roche said.
“The Harper government thus far seems to be indicating a retreat from a strong role in upholding national standards and improving drug coverage and home care, and certainly not seeming to be as concerned about stable and adequate funding for the system,” he said.
The federal government is in the midst of a $36 billion reduction over 10 years in the Canada Health Transfer, the Canadian government’s payment program that supports health systems in the country’s provinces and territories, according to a July 2012 Council of the Federation report. Without federal dollars the government will be unable to enforce the Canada Health Act, according to the Health Action Lobby and the CHAC.
“For Catholic health care … it is a concern with the principles of the Canada Health Act, affordability, universality, accessibility, all of those that have been key foundation stones for the health care system which are going to be very hard to sustain without federal leadership and cohesiveness,” Roche said.
The federal government denied that it is cutting health budgets or weakening the Canada Health Act.
“The Canada Health Act remains the law and is enforceable,” Ambrose’s media relations staff wrote in an email to The Catholic Register, the Toronto-based national Catholic Canadian newspaper. The Canadian government in Ottawa claimed it will increase funding to at least $40 billion annually by 2020-21.
“This future growth path of transfers to the provinces and territories will provide sustainable and predictable funding to support health care for all Canadians,” said the Ministry of Health email.
The provinces did announce a new bulk-buying arrangement for generic drugs, which could save up to $100 million and continued commitment to the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Those are half-measures compared to the changing landscape of health care needs, Roche said.
An aging population will demand more home care and palliative care and evolving health science puts far more emphasis on drug therapies and preventative care, but Canada still has a national health insurance system that was designed to protect people only from hospital costs.
Even as Catholic hospitals have changed to offer more services outside the traditional hospital building, national funding arrangements have stayed stuck in the past, Roche said.
Catholic health care’s lobbying focus will now shift to the next federal election, he added.