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U of T students call for renewal of Canada Health Accord in 2014

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At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, five University of Toronto students in conjunction with the Ontario Health Coalition released their report on the future of public medicare in Canada.

Janice Chan, Richard Jeysman, Linda Lu, Jacquie Lu and Jutara Thangamornrart are students in the University of Toronto Health Studies program.

“In reality, federal spending power and the Act enable Canada’s government to effectively set national standards for health care across Canada,” said the report. 

“The Act is both a legal and moral document, and its principles and criteria are based on core values of equity and fairness.”

In 2014, the current health-care accord -- the deal that sets funding and health-care service delivery agreements between the federal and provincial and territorial governments -- expires and must be renegotiated.

The Health Accord is a legal agreement between the federal and provincial/territorial governments on health care funding.

The 10-year plan set wait time and other goals, and increased health-care funding by 6 per cent each year. 

“The accord provided stable funding after deep cuts in the 1990s,” said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) on its website.  

“It has brought the federal government's cash share of provincial health spending up to 20 per cent, which is not the 50 per cent it covered at the start of Medicare, but better than the 10 per cent of 1998, before the first health accord.

“The accord is also important because it promoted national standards. The Prime Minister and Premiers recommitted to the Canada Health Act and its requirements: public administration, universal access, comprehensive coverage, accessibility without extra charges or discrimination, and portability across provinces. It committed the federal and provincial governments to a set of common goals around wait times, home care, prescription drugs, and team-based primary care.”

Instead, the federal government said health-care funding will continue to increase at 6 per cent a year until 2017, thereafter tied to economic growth with a 3 per cent floor.

“Canada is facing an important next step in our medicare history,” said the Council of Canadians on its website. 

“In the lead-up to these negotiations, we need to remind federal politicians of how much Canadians need and value our public health care system.”

In December 2011, the Conservative government announced it would cut $36 billion from federal financial transfers to the provinces and territories for the delivery of health care services.

“Essentially, the Harper government has reduced its role in Canada’s health care system to writing cheques (and not even ones that would cover the costs of the health care services Canadians need),” said the Council of Canadians. 

“The Harper government has stated that health care is a “provincial jurisdiction” and is signalling it does not support a national public medicare program.”

On Tuesday, the Canadian Press reported that “the Health Council of Canada will no longer receive money from the federal government to keep tabs on an expiring health-care deal between Ottawa and the provinces.”

The Health Council is responsible for monitoring implementation of the 10-year, $41-billion health accord struck in 2004.

“In our research we found that raising awareness and helping to uphold the Act is crucial to stop extra-billing and two-tier health care of patients for needed health care services in Canada,” said the U of T report authours.

“Critics of the current publically funded and publically administered health-care system have fabricated a Medicare crisis to justify challenges to the values of the Canada Health Act.”

Critics warned, said the report, that rising health-care costs, the burden of an aging population, and long wait times have created “insurmountable problems” that can only be solved by increasing the role of the private sector in health-care delivery.

“However, empirical evidence has strongly refuted the notion of a Medicare sustainability crisis,” said the report.

“Evaluation of provincial health care spending in Canada over the last 25 years has shown that it has been relatively stable as a share of GDP.”

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