Ottawa, doctors in faceoff over federal role in health care

Posted on August 26, 2012 in Health Policy Context – news
13 August 2012.   Sharon Kirkey

Yellowknife — The organization representing Canada’s doctors released a poll Monday indicating Canadians believe health care should be the Harper government’s highest priority.

The Canadian Medical Association released the poll results shortly after a speech in which the federal health minister said care is “best left” to the provinces and territories.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told 258 delegates to the CMA’s annual general council meeting that she would not “dictate” to the provinces how they should deliver health care or set priorities.

“There’s a piece missing from that,” outgoing CMA president Dr. John Haggie said to reporters after the minister’s address.

“Really and honestly, what Canadians have told us … is that they would rather like some kind of standards, some equity and equitability across the country,” Dr. Haggie said, so that people with “similar problems” would get similar standards of care.

“That kind of void was never really addressed,” Dr. Haggie said.

Diseases and epidemics such as SARS and H1N1, or bird flu, “do not respect territorial boundaries on a map,” Dr. Haggie added. “And on the international stage they [the federal government] can be the only voice of Canada in terms of the global issues surrounding health,” such as drug shortages.

“Almost any element of health is their responsibility to some extent and in almost any element of health care they have a role to play.”

The Harper government has been under pressure to adopt a more aggressive role in health care by ensuring that provinces are held accountable for the billions of dollars they receive in federal transfer payments.

Ms. Aglukkaq said federal funding for health care will increase from a record level of $27-billion in 2011-12, to about $40-billion by the end of the decade.

She said the funding will give provinces the “flexibility” to invest in their own priorities.

Under the Canadian Constitution, the provinces and territories have most of the responsibility for delivering health services. The federal government is responsible for setting national principles under the Canada Health Act, for providing financial support for the provinces and for delivering care to certain groups, including First Nations people on reserves, veterans and prisoners.

Ms. Aglukkaq criticized what she called “unhelpful, over-the-top” and “shameful” rhetoric over the past year from various groups about the federal role in health care.

Within hours, the CMA responded with a poll showing that 75% of Canadians believe health care should be the government’s No. 1 priority.

According to the Ekos poll, commissioned by the CMA, 87% said the federal government should pay more attention to health care. Sixty per cent said the federal government has a key role to play in enforcing the Canada Health Act and setting national standards.

The telephone survey of 1,044 Canadians was conducted Aug. 3 to 9. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within about plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In December, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unilaterally unveiled a non-negotiable funding plan that runs to 2024.

Canada’s premiers have said the plan will gut $36-billion in transfers to the province over 10 years.

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