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Broken promises and abdication: Flaherty's health-care legacy

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On Monday, over 40 cities in Canada are participating in a national day of action to raise awareness about the loss of provincial and territorial equality in health care. March 31 marks the end of the 2004 Health Accord and the last day Canadian health care will have equalization payments to have-not provinces, national standards, and federal funding tied to achieving set benchmarks.

March 31 is also a day to mourn the fact that we remain the only wealthy country with a universal health-care system and no national pharmacare plan. In 2004, the first ministers (including the prime minister) all agreed to begin work on a national plan, but when the Harper government came to power those plans were abandoned. The premiers are starting to bulk-purchase some medicines, but the cost savings and equality that a universal system with one public administrator would bring will never be realized without federal government involvement. (For more on pharmacare and its cost-savings, please see: Marc-Andre Gagnon's report The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare.)

Not only will the absence of national pharmacare be costly to Canadians, but the absence of a health accord will mean $36 billion less in funding to the provinces and territories. This is because the federal government has been giving the provinces and territories a 6 per cent escalating transfer (called the Canada Health Transfer or CHT) since the 2004 Health Accord. Although public health care was once a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement between the federal and provincial/territorial governments, in the mid-1990s, federal transfers had fallen so low they only covered 10 per cent of public health care expenditure in Canada. The 6 per cent escalator was put in place to correct this and slowly raise the federal contribution. The goal of the premiers was to raise the federal contribution to 25 per cent and they would cover the other 75.

In April 2011, before Canadians went to the polls in the federal election, then Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made two promises:

1. The federal government would meet with the premiers and negotiate a health accord.

2. For the duration of that accord (Flaherty suggested 5 or 10 years) the 6 per cent escalator would remain.

Listen here to hear it.

Just 8 months later, Flaherty flew into a meeting of provincial finance ministers and dictated a new funding formula for the Canada Health Transfer. He announced that starting in 2016/2017 (read after the 2015 election) the 6 per cent escalator would be removed and CHT would be tied to GDP (around 3 per cent). He also announced that the Harper government considered the health accord to be "negotiated" and walked away.  

This Monday, March 31, the Council of Canadians has joined with the Canadian and provincial health-care coalitions, unions, health-care providers, the United Church of Canada, and many others to host more than 40 events across the country raising the alarm on the federal Conservatives' abdication from health care. 

We need your help

Please visit www.saveourhealthcare.ca and write a letter to your MP urging them to speak out against these cuts. 

And join a local event, see the list of events at: http://healthcoalition.ca/Map/ 

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