Local man back from Parliament Hill health care talks

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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As part of the Canadian Health Coalition, Rick Sawa joined other concerned citizens to talk to politicians about health care.

Rick Sawa of Prince Albert went to participate in Canadian Health Coalition meetings with MPs on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last week.

Sawa was one of two members of the Council of Canadians (COC) to attend the meetings with Members of Parliament at Parliament Hill in Ottawa last week.

“The reason we did was because the COC feels very strongly about ensuring access to quality, public health care regardless of age, ability to pay, or where someone lives,” he said. “We wanted to find out where all political parties stood on medicare.”

The group of more than 80 activists met with about 41 MPs, to talk to them about the role of the federal government in health care and the importance of strong commitments to public health care in the upcoming election platform, said Adrienne Silnicki, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition.

Sawa spoke with Ray Boughen, MP of Palliser, but was unable to speak with Randy Hoback, MP of Prince Albert. He instead spoke with Hobak’s staff.

“The few things that we told each MP, which were the priorities of the Canadian Health Coalition, were protecting and improving the public health care system so everyone has equal access to care regardless of their ability to pay,” Sawa said. “This would mean a new accord and reversing current funding cuts.”

The second topic was surrounding pharmacare, he said. Currently more than one in 10 Canadians cannot fill their prescriptions due to the cost.

“When people get sick, if they have to pay the rent or get a prescription, they often times have to pay their rent and go without a prescription,” Sawa said. “This can oftentimes led to something more serious.”

The coalition would like the federal government to consider a universal pharmacare program.

“The evidence that has come out has shown it will save $11.4 billion and it would give all residents of Canada access to prescription medication,” Silnicki said. “We are actually the only country that has a universal health care system that doesn’t include pharmaceuticals. We are asking them to join all the other countries that have that and also save Canadians $11.4 billion.”

Sawa believes the issues of pharmacare and a new health accord are closely connected.

When he spoke with Boughen about pharmacare, he focused on the fact that the federal government gives “no strings attached” funding to the provinces.

“We suggested that (the funding) may be part of the problem, because there are no strings attached, Canadians will get different services in different provinces,” Sawa said. “We told him that Canadians expect the federal government to play a leadership role and this should be in the form of a new accord.

“This all started because there was no new accord, which means that it is free-wheeling by provinces now -- they don’t have to account for the money they get by the federal government,” he added. “That’s a concern of ours. Therefore, as I have said many times, you go from province to province and we won’t know what’s covered and what’s not covered because there will be no accord to keep them accountable.”

The third topic was seniors’ care, giving the elderly access to high quality public, home, facility-based, long-term, palliative and hospice care.

Boughen didn’t have a lot to say on the matter, Sawa said, other than to discuss funding and that he supports efforts to stay at home.

Sawa said although they were unable to speak with Hoback, his executive assistant tried to answer the questions to the best of his ability.

“The one thing that he did tell us (was) that the money is sent to the provinces and that most of the items we talked to them about are provincial responsibility,” Sawa said. “He indicated that in spite of a six per cent increase in Saskatchewan, The Saskatchewan Party only increased the health budget by three per cent, suggesting the other three per cent from the federal government went into the general coffers.

“That’s our concern when it is a transfer of funds, not earmarked for health, we really won’t know where that money is going,” he added. “He did express a mild interest in pharmacare and so we promised to send him additional information about what that would look like.”

Silnicki said many parties have a plan in place to deal with some of the topics, while others are still writing platforms, so it was the perfect time to talk with MPs.

“The ones we could meet with were really receptive to meeting with us.”

Canada Health Transfer cuts discussed

Silnicki said they also discussed the upcoming cuts for Canada Health Transfer.

“The calculation changed in 2011 and will start to take effect in 2017,” she said. “Between 2017 and 2024, the provinces are going to lose $36 billion to health care funding.

“We are very worried about the impact that is going to have on Canadians across the country,” she added. “We know that provinces for aging populations, especially provinces that are poor, are going to have a hard time making sure they can access the same health care as other Canadians.”

According to a survey they did during the summer, 80 per cent of Canadians want the federal government to play a strong role in health care and close to 50 per cent of Canadians will change the way they vote in the next election if the party they usually vote for does not have a strong health care platform.

“We usually see that health care is either the first or second issue that people consider when they go to the ballot box,” Silnicki said. “Health care and economy switch back and forth ... We see as our population ages, people are getting more and more concerned, about themselves, but also about their parents and grandparents.

“Especially in 2015, we are going to see a massive population of people who are worried about ensuring the care is there when they need it or when their family or loved ones need it. It is going to be a big deciding factor in the election.”

@superjodes • jodi.schellenberg@paherald.sk.ca

Organizations: COC, Canadian Health Coalition, Prince Albert The Saskatchewan Party

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Saskatchewan

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