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Saving Public Health Care in Canada Is Not Beyond Our Reach

Saving Public Health Care in Canada Is Not Beyond Our Reach

In her new book, Better Now, Dr. Danielle Martin — a family doctor and vice-president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital — puts forward six ideas to improve health care in Canada. Here, Dr. Martin writes on the importance of saving Canada’s health care system:

There’s nothing like an American health care debate to make Canadians feel lucky.

As his first act in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order, taking the first step to repeal the Affordable Care Act. With the stroke of a pen, 20 million Americans may soon find themselves without health insurance.

It wasn’t that long ago that many Canadians faced the same challenge.

When my grandparents Jacques and Sarah arrived in Montreal in 1951, they had left behind everything and everyone they knew in Egypt. The burden of building a new life in this new country fell heavily on Jacques’s shoulders. It was a role he assumed dutifully, until, a year later, he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for nine weeks.

The ordeal diminished him — physically and otherwise. Complications lingered. The cost of drugs and visits to the doctor were as crippling as the pain in his legs and he was barely able to work. For my grandmother, the pressures of caring for an ailing husband and holding the family together became overwhelming.

The story ends with my grandfather’s death at the age of 54 in 1966 — the same year Parliament passed legislation to create Medicare. Had it been in place, how different might my grandparents’ lives have been?

Our system of health care is about more than money and medicine. It is about the values that define us as a society: Are we there for one another when we’re at our must vulnerable? Do we place well-being above wealth? Do we believe that good health leads to good outcomes — like a stronger economy, more cohesive communities and more fulfilling lives?

Given the debates taking place south of our border, we should never take the answers to these questions for granted. But let’s be honest. There are a variety of problems with our health-care system.

People struggle to find a family doctor. They wait too long for specialist consultations and elective surgeries. Spending must be sufficient, but it must also be sustainable.

We need, in a word, to make health care in Canada better. For that reason, it’s time to shift the debate. Let’s quit bickering over whether we can sustain public health care. Let’s focus on how to sustain it.

The solutions are neither magical, nor beyond our grasp. And most of them don’t actually require more money — in fact, some of them will produce savings. In my book, Better Now, I highlight six such ideas that, if implemented, could produce important and wide-ranging transformation. For example, there is no reason we can’t ensure that every Canadian has access to a family doctor. In fact, by working together in teams with nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists, we could deliver truly patient-centred care.

Wait times for surgeries could be brought down by pooling lists among specialists. We can reduce unnecessary tests and procedures. And if we were to bring prescription medicines into medicare nationally, we could save money and provide everyone with access to life-saving drugs.

All that’s required is the will. And, perhaps even more fundamentally, a commitment to maintaining the principle of universal access.

Our system of universal health care is a fundamental expression of our values and a testament to Canadians’ commitment to fairness. It is a system built upon the basic principle that care should be based upon need, not ability to pay. That’s not a value that goes out of style.

But if we believe that medicare is a worthy endeavour then we must also live up to those values and accept the responsibility to make that system work — and work well.

Dr. Danielle Martin/Montreal Gazette/January, 2017