Canadians consistently rank health care as the issue that matters most to them — and there’s no better time than a federal election for us to address the need for a national vision. But we shouldn’t view health care as one election issue among many; we should make it the lens through which we watch debates and examine a broad range of policies. It’s up to us to look critically at each party’s platform and its candidates to see just how committed it is to tackling our health-related concerns. Here’s what I look for before casting my vote.
1. A plan that tackles the cost of, quality of and access to prescription medicine
Canada is the only country in the developed world with a universal health care system that doesn’t include coverage for prescription medications. This means that one in 10 Canadians doesn’t take his or her medication because of concerns about cost. Women may be more affected because they’re more likely to be employed part-time or on contract and are less likely to have benefits. I have patients who skip doses and ration pills because they have to choose between groceries, rent and medication.
Some politicians claim that governments can’t afford to pay for prescription medicine insurance for everyone. In fact, we pay so much extra for medicine in Canada, we could actually save billions by negotiating better drug prices and buying in bulk. For example, a year’s supply of the cholesterol-lowering medication Lipitor costs an individual in Canada at least $811; in New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates prices on behalf of the entire country, a year’s supply of the same drug costs just $15. Universal public pharmacare is our best hope of controlling drug costs in the decades to come.
2. A commitment to support seniors and mental health initiatives
In the past, federal dollars have been spent addressing issues like wait times for joint replacements and immunizations for children. Today, a top priority should be a national seniors’ strategy that includes better access to quality home and community care. As the average age of Canadians increases, we need a stronger system in place to respond to their needs. Another priority is better access to mental health services for all ages. In my practice, I see families struggling to figure out what resources are available for their loved ones — and our fragmented system makes it hard to know where to go for help.
Our politicians should ensure that federal spending actually results in change and improved standards of care across the country, so that Canadians can get access to the same services no matter where they live. To help make this happen, look for a party that wants to do more than just blindly write a cheque to the provinces. Ask the candidates on your doorstep about their party’s view on the government’s role in health care, and which issues they plan to handle at a federal level.
3. A platform that also covers poverty, education and the environment
As the national advocacy organization Upstream points out, if we want a healthy Canada, we need to look at factors that have a big impact on health, such as income, education and job security.
Women who reside in the wealthiest 20 percent of Canadian neighbourhoods live an average of two years longer than those in the poorest 20 percent. In other words, a platform that includes action on poverty, the environment, education and social inequality also affects our health.
If we look critically at every government policy and its effect on health, we can begin to address the root causes of illness rather than play a costly game of catch-up.
Dr. Danielle Martin is a family physician, VP medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and a senior fellow at WIHV in Toronto.
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