Current Issue
About Us
Ad Rates

The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552
Fax: 604-267-3342

Web: www.columbiajournal.ca

Powered by NetNation- www.netnation.com

Columbia Journal logo

June 2003

    There’s nothing wrong with medicare… that a little democracy can’t fix

    Colleen Fuller

    Medicare, it often is said, exists because we live in a democratic society. If so, it stands to reason that without democracy we wouldn’t have this great social program that we all love. In fact, democracy, I would argue, is the heart and mind of medicare, and of our ability to make it work the way we want it to. When democracy is on shaky ground, so is medicare.

    Take the privatization happening across Canada, something that is riding roughshod over public values and public opinion. Polls have consistently shown (for example a May 2000 Ekos poll) that the most acceptable--indeed the most desirable--option chosen by Canadians is a publicly funded health care system with services provided by not-for-profit institutions and providers.

    If democracy was working in medicare, this is the kind of system we’d be building. But democracy isn’t working in health care, and health care isn’t working for an increasing number of people.

    If democracy was working, there would be an increase in the income taxes paid by the wealthy to support the health care system. When asked, this is the option Canadians have consistently chosen. But democracy isn’t working, and middle and low-income Canadians are paying more than their fair share to support the health system--including in the form of lower wages for providing health services.

    Canadians also reject user fees as way to pay for hospital services--in one poll only 13 per cent supported that option. If democracy was at the heart of medicare, surgical facilities that charge thousands of dollars in user fees would be turned into not-for-profit publicly funded providers. User fees for hospital services like physiotherapy or podiatry would be a corporate fantasy instead of the cruel reality faced now by British Columbians. But democracy isn’t working in BC and medicare isn’t working for a lot of sick and injured people who are forking over scarce dollars or are being deterred from obtaining needed care.

    The Ekos poll referred to above also asked Canadians for ideas about how to improve the health system. In order of preference they chose more hospital beds, new technology, more home and community care, more health promotion and prevention, improving Pharmacare, more accountability. Dead last on the list was more privatization and more queue-jumping by people who pay. In fact, another survey found more Canadians (57 per cent) chose “longer waiting times for some health care services” as a way to relieve pressure on the system than chose privatization (23 per cent) or user fees (22 per cent) in the Ekos poll.

    If democracy was working, privatization and user fees would be unheard of for medically necessary health care. But democracy isn’t working, and as a consequence beds in small and rural BC are closing, hospitals aren’t getting new equipment, home care is being shut down and community care strangled, health promotion and prevention is not adequately funded, the system is less not more accountable, user fees and privatization are rampant and Pharmacare is under attack.

    Let’s look at Pharmacare. According to Victoria’s Monday Magazine, Big Pharma gave generously to the BC Liberal election machine in 2001. For example, the Canadian Research Based Pharmaceutical Companies, an umbrella group representing some 60+ drug companies, gave the Liberal Party $11,800. Pfizer Canada Inc. gave the governing provincial Liberals $5,400, while another $5,300 came from AstraZaneca Canada Inc.; $4,304 from Merck Frost Canada & Co; $3,650 from Glaxo-Wellcome and, last but not least, $2,500 from Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. No higher taxes for these guys, and no expanded Reference Drug Program to limit their revenues.

    The drug industry’s largesse compares to a mere petition from people throughout the province to the BC government last Spring asking for an expanded and strengthened Reference Drug Program (RDP) to better control drug costs and greater cooperation with the federal government to establish a national Pharmacare program.

    Unfortunately, the government ignored the penniless petition, not to mention the outcry from tens of thousands of people, including seniors and disabled citizens. There’s no democracy in Pharmacare, and there’s no Pharmacare for a lot more British Columbians than before.

    We’re right to ask whether there’s any connection between the government’s failure to expand one of BC’s key cost-savers, the Reference Drug Program (opting instead for a shift in drug expenditures totalling $100 million to taxpayers); and contributions from the drug industry to the Liberal Party.

    That’s democracy for you--or rather that’s no democracy. And no democracy means no entitlement, no right, and no access without the requisite cash.

    Colleen Fuller is a health care researcher, author and public care advocate.


Search WWW Search www.columbiajournal.ca