Ottawa grades poorly in CMA’s annual report card on health care

TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
13 August 2012.   Josh Tapper

Faced with a bevy of federal health-care spending cuts, Canadians are expressing concern that the country’s health-care services will deteriorate in the near future, a new report says.

Only 36 per cent of Canadians believe federal health care will improve in the next two or three years, a 2 per cent decrease from last year, according to the Canadian Medical Association’s annual report card released Monday.

“(The report) obviously would suggest the feds are not living up to what that group expects from their federal government,” said Dr. John Haggie, the outgoing president of the CMA. “We certainly have seen over this last year particularly a trend to distance themselves from matters of health.”

The CMA report comes months after the Conservatives’ austerity budget revealed an eroding commitment to federal health-care funding and a pledge by Ottawa to reduce federal-provincial health-care transfer payments after 2016.

Furthermore, the report found 38 per cent of Canadians are happy with the Harper government’s health-care record. While that represents a 2 per cent improvement from 2011, 22 per cent still gave the Conservatives an F grade and a further 30 per cent assigned a C.

Pollsters Ipsos Reid completed the survey for the CMA, which represents about 76,000 doctors nationwide, to coincide with the organization’s 145th annual meeting in Yellowknife this week.

New Democrat MP and health-care critic Libby Davies said the poor report card reflects a broad failure on the part of the government to resolve the nationwide drug shortage, secure a long-term care solution and make progress on the $41-billion 2014 Health Accord signed eight years ago.

“They’ve washed their hands of health care,” Davies said of the Conservatives. “They’ve basically walked away. That has dramatic and serious consequences, and it’s very clear from this survey Canadians have not only taken note of that, they feel very dissatisfied and concerned about it.”

Despite the substandard grades, a spokesperson for federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq noted the government has invested more than $1 billion annually in health-care innovation, such as personalized medicine research.

The report also notes a widening gap in the health practices of high- and low-income Canadians and how those two groups access health-care services. Canadians from households earning less than $30,000 annually sleep less, smoke more and eat fewer vegetables than those earning more than $60,000 per year.

In the survey, 39 per cent of low-income respondents claimed “excellent” or “very good” health, compared with 68 per cent in the high-income group. The 29-point gap is 12 points greater than 2009.

As such, 59 per cent of those surveyed who earn less than $30,000 reported that they needed health care in the past month, 16 points higher than those earning $60,000 or more.

Davies accused the Conservatives of failing to address key social determinants of health — such as tobacco use, access to health care and nutrition — within the health-care system through public health awareness.

“They’ve got to realize there are huge income disparities that produce inequities in people’s health and how they access health,” said Davies, adding that trans-fats and sodium reduction campaigns should be of major importance.

But the report is not without good news: Seventy-four per cent of Canadians graded the quality of their health-care services an A or B, a four-point improvement from 2011, and 72 per cent awarded the same scores to their most recent health-care experience.

“If you actually get to the system, by and large, there is a significant majority who get good or excellent service,” Haggie said.

Ipsos Reid surveyed 1,004 Canadians between July 23 and July 30 with a 3.2 per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20.

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