It’s true about the Canadian Medical Association. Its ugly secret is finally out in the open for all to see. No more skulking about corridors at policy conferences. No more uncomfortable pauses during media interviews, avoiding the big question – the one that always pops up.
The CMA can now speak openly about medicare. They don’t like it. They never have. And they don’t care who knows.
That was the real news that came out of the August CMA convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The selection by an overwhelming majority of CMA members for Dr. Brian Day, an advocate of a pro-private or two-tiered health system, as their next national president signaled a clear shift in the CMA’s position.
It’s not a policy shift. The CMA has never been totally supportive of a public health care system. It’s a public relations shift: the organization no longer sees the need to pretend.
The election race between Day and Dr. Ray Baruk wasn’t much of a contest. Though billed as a clash of fundamental values embodied by the two candidates, it was more like a choice between similar shades of blue.
On one hand you had Day, the pro-private champion, versus last-minute challenger Baruk, a luke-warm proponent of a semi-private system. A true champion for medicare was nowhere to be found.
However, the CMA is still anxious about of showing its true colours in full view of a wary Canadian public. Polls show that average people care deeply about medicare. They want their governments to protect it – and by extension their access to affordable, accessible health care.
So the CMA, and their leader-elect, say they are not yet ready to tear down medicare. Instead, the CMA made clear it favours a slow erosion of the public system, by targetting provincial regulations that keep a lid on costs.
For example, a regulation that prevents double-dipping would be a target since it discourages doctors from charging the public system while also billing patients or their private health plans. These regulations exist in every province, except Newfoundland, to discourage queue jumping.
“I have never supported the privatization of medicare,” Day said soon after his election. However, Day’s words didn’t convince one reporter who pointed out that: “Day, who for more than a year has openly flouted both the Canada Health Act and British Columbia law by letting well-heeled patients jump the queue, said his views have been misrepresented by the eastern media.”
Across the country, Day’s election by the CMA was roundly condemned by groups supportive of medicare as a cynical move toward the privatization of a national treasure. “Canadians can no longer trust the CMA,” said Mike McBain of the Canadian Health Coalition echoing the sentiments of many.
(With files from www.cbc.ca, Toronto Star, and Globe and Mail.)