As I knock on doors across the South Okanagan and West Kootenay, one issue is a common topic of conversation—health care. Canadians are rightfully proud of our public health care system, and the NDP is proud that it was Tommy Douglas who fought for the free, universal program that we enjoy.
It is not perfect, but for the most part it works very well. Unfortunately, it is not as comprehensive as it should be, since various parts of the body and methods of health care were not included with the system from the start.
I’ve written here before about the need for a public pharmacare system. It makes no sense that we can go to a doctor without charge, we can be admitted to hospital without charge, but we must pay for prescribed medicines that are an integral part of our care ourselves. About 10 percent of Canadians cannot afford to fill their prescriptions; many end up getting sicker and going to hospital, adding to the costs of our health care system.
Since 1964, various royal commissions and government committee reports have recommended that we include prescription medicines in our national health care system. The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported recently that a public, universal pharmacare plan would save Canada more than $4 billion each year while providing all Canadians with free access to essential medication. We would be healthier and wealthier.
The NDP has been pressing for a public, universal and comprehensive pharmacare plan for years but unfortunately, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to act on this clearly beneficial policy.
And then there are the body parts that are not covered by our supposedly comprehensive system. I was just at the dentist getting my teeth cleaned the other day and was informed that the dental coverage for government employees was being cut back. But I’m one of the fortunate ones that has dental coverage; one in three Canadians has no dental insurance at all, and over six million Canadians don’t visit the dentist every year because they can’t afford to. Proper dental care is critical to overall health and should be covered by our universal health care system just as visits to the doctor are.
Similarly, good vision and hearing are essential to everyday life, but many Canadians can’t afford to get their eyes and ears checked regularly and often can’t afford the glasses and hearing aids that may be recommended.
Health care is ultimately a responsibility of provincial governments in Canada, but the federal government has an important role in ensuring that access to care and the quality of that care are similar across the country. This is done through health transfer payments and standards set under the Canada Health Act. And we could ensure that Canadians are healthier and wealthier by extending those standards to cover eyes, ears and essential medications.
Richard Cannings, MP, South Okanagan-West Kootenay