Canadian Health Coalition

Secure the Future of Medicare: A Call to Care

FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAURIER, NOVEMBER 30, 2011

High-Quality Video (Source: CPAC)

 
KEYNOTE SPEECH: Roy Romanow

PANEL #1 – “Threats to Medicare: Failed experiments and myths”, Panel moderated by André Picard, award-winning health reporter from The Globe and Mail
Panelists: Natalie Mehra (Ontario Health Coalition), Diana Gibson (Parkland Institute, Alberta), Saideh Khadir (Médecins Québécois pour le Régime Public) and Allan Maslove (School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University)

PANEL #2 – “The Way Forward: Integrated and Continuing Care”, Panel moderated by André Picard, award-winning health reporter from The Globe and Mail
Panelists: John Abbott (CEO, Health Council of Canada), Marc-André Gagnon (School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University), Michael Rachlis (health policy analyst) and Sharon Sholzberg-Gray (Past-President, Canadian Healthcare Association)



Toronto Star (December 1, 2011)
Privatization threatens public health care, Romanow warns
By Niamh Scallan

Creeping privatization and individualism in Canadian politics could destroy the country’s public health-care system, warns former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

In a speech Wednesday evening to the Canadian Health Coalition in Ottawa, Romanow decried a “palpable momentum toward individualism, decentralization and privatization” in Canada.

He gave the example of a “meanness of spirit . . . that somehow finds money to buy defibrillators for hockey arenas, but drags its feet about providing potable water to First Nations communities” — and said the government’s “so-called new thinking” misguidedly frames health care as a commodity rather than a right.

Citing a Nanos poll released last week, Romanow said a record 94 per cent of Canadians support public health care — and called on Canadians to continue their demand for a universal, public insurance model.

“Canadians view medicare as a moral enterprise not a business venture. We see it as a right of citizenship, not a privilege of status or wealth,” he said.

The former premier’s speech came less than a week after provincial and territorial health ministers met in Halifax for a two-day summit to discuss ways to reform Canada’s financially strained public health-care system.

The Conservative government has yet to announce whether it will renew the current funding deal — where Ottawa raises its health transfers by 6 per cent every year — when the 2004 Canada Health Accord expires in 2014.

In his speech, Romanow listed a number of issues he said remain central to the Canadian health-care reform debate — universal, public health care, a focus on total health-care costs, decreasing wait times for care, and preventing illness and disease among them.

“We need a more comprehensive strategy,” he said. “After all, we are not fighting to preserve a 1960s health-care system, we are fighting to build a modern and sustainable health-care system that meets today’s needs.”

Romanow added that current health-care delivery must be more fully integrated to more effectively and efficiently serve Canadians, especially seniors. He called for increased federal funding for community health centres across the country and a national home-care strategy so that more Canadians can be treated at home.

“Now, more than ever we need to embrace comprehensive policy solutions that tackle root causes instead of surface symptoms,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we need to engage and mobilize Canadians in the fight to secure and expand medicare.”


Postmedia News (December 1, 2011)
More Canadian public health coverage needed: Romanow
By Bradley Bouzane

OTTAWA — Roy Romanow told a symposium on the future of medicare Wednesday that a number of health matters — including home care and the out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs — should be included in the public system to ensure all Canadians get the services they need.

The former Saskatchewan premier and chair of the 2002 Commission on the Future of Health Care said Canada’s public health-care system maintains clear advantages over a privatized system, but insists more work is needed to provide more complete care.

“We must lay the groundwork now for including catastrophic drug costs, at least, and bring aspects of home care, long-term care and access to advanced diagnostic services — the areas of fastest rising costs — under the umbrella of public funding,” Romanow told the symposium, which was organized by the Canadian Health Coalition.

“Otherwise, costs will continue to escalate — without restraint and with relentless abandonment of those in need.”

He said that Canada’s spending on prescription medication “now outpaces that of most other (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.”

In his speech Wednesday, Romanow also addressed the issue of lengthy wait times in Canada, saying that a strategy is needed to cut the delays.

This month, the OECD released a health report to gauge the efficiency of health systems around the world. It noted that Canada ranked among the worst of all OECD countries in terms of wait times.

Romanow’s appearance at the symposium comes a week after the federal government and officials from the provinces and territories began talks on changes to the 2004 Health Accord, which is set to expire in 2014.

He said there are “two fundamentally competing visions” for how the future of health care in Canada will look. He said one view — that of a private system — sees health care as a “commodity,” while insisting the public system is “grounded on the Canadian values of fairness, equity, compassion and collective action.”

National expansion of community health centres — with the assistance of new money from the federal government — would be one method to improve upon the current Canadian system, Romanow said.

A national home-care strategy would also help alleviate some of the burden placed on hospitals, he said, by allowing more Canadians to receive treatment in their own homes instead of inside a hospital, when that level of monitoring is not always necessary.

Romanow also stressed the need for better integration of health-care providers at various levels in order to improve health-care delivery in Canada.

“We need to break down traditional barriers among health-care providers and reform the local delivery of health care through more efficient and effective integration.”

He said maintaining the status quo for Canadian health care just won’t cut it and said the system must evolve to deal with its current burdens.

“After all, we are not fighting to preserve a 1960s health-care system,” he said. “We are fighting to build a modern and sustainable health-care system that meets today’s needs.”


Ottawa Citizen (December 20, 2011)
Ontario must act fast to reshape health system, control costs, Romanow Warns
By Pauline Tam

OTTAWA — Roy Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier who slashed medicare in an effort to save it, has fighting words for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose minority government is seeking ways to rein in skyrocketing health-care costs.

No matter how the McGuinty Liberals decide to cut spending and reshape Ontario’s health system, they should act decisively, move fast and brace for political heat, said Romanow.

“What you have to do is implement the reforms as quickly as you can and as effectively as you can in order to get the population to understand that it isn’t all bad,” Romanow said in an interview. “In fact, it’s probably the right thing to do.”

The Ontario government, crippled by a $16-billion deficit and weakening economy, is contemplating spending cuts and changes to the health system that broadly resemble those of deficit-plagued Saskatchewan in the 1990s.

As premier of the province that invented medicare, Romanow enraged many people by closing hospitals, slashing public drug spending and reorganizing the way health services were delivered.

Rural residents grumbled about losing their hospitals — and the jobs that went with them. Scores of nurses were laid off. Doctors complained about their diminished clout.

Voters and labour unions were particularly shocked that the austerity measures came from an NDP government that styled itself a guardian of Tommy Douglas’s medicare legacy.

The Ontario Health Coalition, a pro-medicare group, has warned that this province faces a similar fate, which would jeopardize the quality of patient care.

Yet despite fierce public opposition, Romanow’s reforms allowed Saskatchewan to balance its budget three years into his term. They also won his party a second majority government.

Romanow said through all the turbulence, he tried to remain faithful to medicare’s core values of fairness and compassion. He indicated, for example, that his government avoided privatizing certain health services or introducing user fees, which would only have shifted costs from the public purse to individuals who had to pay out of pocket.

Such an approach would have done nothing to reduce the overall share of provincial wealth devoted to health spending — a situation that McGuinty also understands, said Romanow.

“In my judgment, I think Premier McGuinty has recognized the traps of false economy. I would say Premier McGuinty is making all the right overtures as he carefully examines what his options are.”

Romanow, a former federal health-care commissioner, made his remarks on a recent trip to Ottawa, where he mounted a spirited defence of medicare in a speech to the Canadian Health Coalition.

Under the Romanow government, 52 of Saskatchewan’s 132 hospitals were closed and turned into community health centres that focused on disease prevention, wellness and primary care.

The province slashed spending on its drug plan. And it divided Saskatchewan into 30 autonomous health regions, each responsible for its own hospitals, nursing homes, ambulances, home care and public-health units.

Those reforms could well serve as a blueprint for Ontario.

While the Liberals have yet to unveil their plans, a consensus among policy experts is emerging. Don Drummond, an influential economist who’s leading the government’s review of public services, has called for a “structural redesign” of the health system.

And a report by the Mowat Centre, a Toronto-based think tank, has recommended the government pay doctors less for certain medical procedures that are much less expensive and time-consuming than they once were.

The report also proposed that more medical procedures be moved out of hospitals and into specialized clinics — an idea that also has the backing of the Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province’s 26,000 doctors.

In addition, a growing chorus of experts is calling for the province’s regional health boards to be given more powers than they currently have. Ontario’s 14 LHINs, or local health integration networks, were established by the Liberals as a step toward regional health-care delivery, an approach common in other provinces because it cuts red tape and eliminates the duplication of services, creating a more patient-friendly and cost-effective system.

The most recent think tank to endorse the idea is the Change Foundation, whose board comprises health-care insiders such as Ron Sapsford, a former Ontario deputy health minister.

Ontario’s opposition Tories, who previously vowed to scrap the LHINs, has acknowledged that some type of local health planning is needed as the province looks for ways to rein in spending and deliver services more efficiently.