The integrity of Canada’s medicare system is being challenged on several clear and pressing fronts, say leading experts gathering for a two-day conference to fix medicare.

Queue-jumping, extra-billing, two-tier U.S.-style health care, pending labour shortages, and lack of federal leadership pose serious threats to the future of Canada’s public health care, says Tommy Douglas’ daughter, actress Shirley Douglas.

“There are dark storm clouds looming over Canada’s health care system,” says Douglas.

“My father had a very clear vision for a public health care system that was public, universal, and that focused on prevention. But there is no such public health care champion in today’s federal government. If we’re not careful, Canada will end up with two-tier health care by stealth.”

Roy Romanow, whose Commission laid out a detailed roadmap for the future of health care reform, says that says that while we are making some slow progress in some areas of medicare reform, Canada still has a long way to go.

“Ideology and the slow pace of reform are the two main challenges standing in the way of progress on medicare today. Our political leaders need a wake up call so they can listen to the evidence and to the voices of everyday Canadians for medicare,” Romanow says.

Harvard medical expert Arnold Relman, MD, warns Canada not to follow in U.S. footsteps with private health care. “Market-based health care will make problems worse not better,” he says. “Health care belongs in the public sector in both our countries.”

The conference, SOS medicare, brings together experts to examine what’s keeping Canada from expanding and improving public health care. Featured speakers include:

  • Stephen Lewis, former U.S. Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS;
  • Monique Bégin, Commissioner with the World Health Organization and former Minister of Health under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau;
  • Allan Blakeney, former Saskatchewan Premier and Health Minister;
  • Marcia Angell, MD, member of Harvard’s Medical School;
  • Marie-Claude Prémont, a leading Quebec lawyer and expert on creeping two-tier health care in Quebec.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Health Coalition. Here is the full conference program.