Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling which says Quebec patients should be allowed to buy insurance to cover medical treatments already provided by medicare should serve as a wake-up call to Paul Martin to honour the promises the Liberals have made to patients in four elections, says NDP Leader Jack Layton and Health Critic Jean Crowder.

The court case was pursued by leading private health interests and a Liberal Senator. Its implications are narrow in the immediate term, affecting only Quebec, which has a provincial charter of rights and which is the home of the litigant.

“After 12 years of Liberal government, the privatization Mr. Martin pretends to oppose has grown and we’re still waiting for action on the ideas that will protect public medicare and improve it,” said Layton. “Today’s court ruling should again sound the alarm for Paul Martin, who keeps mistaking rhetoric for action.”

Across Canada, privatization has increased as a federal Liberal government withdraws from health accountability. In B.C., large new private clinics are opening. The for-profit hospitals Liberals campaigned against in 2000 are open in Alberta. Homecare is operated for-profit in Ontario and for-profit MRIs are expanding in Nova Scotia.

Martin’s hastily put-together health accord also contains no prohibitions against privatization, and the increased federal funding for health care has no meaningful conditions attached in another example of Martin failing to do what he promised.

“Public medicare is one of minority government’s proudest achievements that now forms a cornerstone of Canadian identity,” said Crowder. “Health Minister Dosanjh needs to protect and improve it, by reasserting a federal role in stopping privatization and pursuing the solutions that can control costs, improve care and keep medicare public.”

She said basic first steps such as bulk-buying prescription drugs âe” long recommended, but never acted upon âe” and ending practices such as the evergreening of drugs, which artificially extends patent protection are urgently required. Homecare and pharmacare, both key components of health reform, have never been priorities of the Liberals.

“Four times, people voted to keep health care public and yet over the last 12 years, Mr. Martin has failed to keep his election promises,” said Layton. “Inaction creates the longer waiting lists on which privatization flourishes, and abandoning federal leadership makes the situation worse. That’s not why people voted Liberal, and they deserve better.”

Court ruling opens door to Americanization of health care

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling is a devastating blow to Canada’s most precious public service, says the Council of Canadians.

“This decision means that U.S. Health Management Organizations (HMOs) could bring their private insurance schemes, which are linked to services in their own private hospitals, to Canada. The result, ultimately, would be the Americanization of Canada’s health care system,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“The Court used examples from Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden to conclude that private insurance can coexist with a public system. However, these examples do not apply to Canada, as we are subject to NAFTA,” says Guy Caron, Canada-U.S. Relations Campaigner for the Council of Canadians.

Caron explains that under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, Canada cannot give preference to Canadian companies over U.S. ones, even for the provision of health care services. Therefore, U.S. for-profit health care companies can get the same funding for their services from the federal government as is allocated to the Canadian public system.

“Through the Romanow Commission, Canadians told the federal government that we want a fully-funded, properly resourced and staffed, public health care system. By underfunding health care for so long, both the Canadian and the Quebec governments have forced this issue into the courts and both must be blamed for their negligence,” says Barlow.

“This ruling reaffirms that adequate and timely health care is a fundamental right of all Canadians. The federal and provincial governments have an obligation to provide these services within the public system, not have this right undermined by for-profit business. Turning to private companies to fix the problems caused by chronic underfunding is completely unacceptable.”

Barlow demands that Parliament and the provincial legislatures intervene to protect public health care.

“Our system is based on need and not on ability to pay. It is completely unacceptable to Canadians to have a system that allows those with more money to jump to the front of the line,” says Barlow.

“Canadians have consistently opposed a two-tier system. The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that governments must deliver health care in a timely and reasonable manner. Both levels of government have to start putting their money where their mouths are. We demand full implementation of the Romanow Report and a massive reinvestment in public health care to prevent the rise of the private system,” says Barlow.