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The 2012 federal budget confirmed Stephen Harper’s plan to cut federal health care funding, and it showed no leadership on pressing Medicare issues. Women, both as providers and recipients of health care, will suffer most from these gaps.

We need the federal government to carry through on its responsibilities under the 2004-2014 health accord and negotiate a new accord that will protect, improve and strengthen Medicare.

Planned funding cuts

The budget confirms Harper’s decision, announced last November with no negotiations, to implement long-term cuts to health care funding. Starting in 2017, Canada Health Transfer increases will be tied to economic growth, with a three percent floor, down from six percent.

How much is cut depends on economic growth; assuming the worst, it means a cut of $36 billion over seven years. Using the Parliamentary Budget Office’s more optimistic outlook, it’s a cut of $26 billion over seven years.

No matter how rosy the forecast, the federal government’s share of health care spending will shrink to a fraction what it was when the federal government showed leadership on Medicare. The federal government’s cash share of provincial health spending was 50 percent at the start of Medicare; now it stands at 21 percent. Harper wants to drag the federal government back to the 10 percent level of the late 90s, after a series of cuts that were devastating for workers and patients.

Without the clout of cash, the federal government cannot enforce national Medicare standards such as those in the Canada Health Act. Already, the Act is being virtually ignored, and Harper is encouraging “alternative service delivery”, which is code for private for-profit health care.

This federal budget also cut Health Canada funding by 6.4 percent, further weakening federal oversight and leadership on Medicare.

Cuts already hurting marginalized women

The immediate federal cuts are already taking a toll on women’s and Aboriginal health groups.  Harper has cut funding to the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) and to a number of Aboriginal women’s health organizations; crucial programs on suicide prevention, women’s health, diabetes and other urgent health issues will be lost. Harper is also cutting the Women’s Health Contribution Program, which funds six women’s health organizations across the country. More cuts are on the way.

Lack of vision

With this budget, Harper failed to offer a vision for Medicare or tackle Canadians’ pressing health care concerns. Women will continue to shoulder the burden of covering these gaps, both as workers and patients/clients.

One week after the Senate committee reviewing the health accord called for stronger federal leadership and new pan-Canadian programs (pharmacare and continuing care), the budget shows a federal government in retreat. It offered nothing substantial to Canadians struggling to pay for prescription drugs, care for their ailing parents, or get high-quality affordable care outside of hospitals.

What we need

We need the federal government to negotiate with the provinces a new ten year health accord that will protect, strengthen and expand Medicare.

An accord that protects Medicare would deliver stable and sufficient federal funding, not cuts, and would maintain national standards, starting with the Canada Health Act.

An accord that strengthens Medicare would promote public sector innovations like more healthy, local food in hospitals; cleaner health care facilities, to combat healthcare association infections, and; more teamwork, where every provider uses their skills and experience to the fullest.

An accord that expands Medicare would create a pan-Canadian program for home care and nursing home care, a universal pharmacare program, expanded community health services, and better coordination between all parts of the health care system.

For more details on these recommendations and why they’re needed, see CUPE’s report on the health accord.

Medicare good for families, good for the economy

Protecting, strengthening and expanding Medicare would help overburdened families, in particular the women in those families, and would provide a much-needed boost to the economy - both by freeing up unpaid caregivers to participate more fully in the labour force and by creating new jobs. Care recipients and caregivers, both paid and unpaid, are disproportionately women.

The chronic underfunding, deregulation, and privatization of health care hurt women most, but the ripple effects reach families, communities and society at large. Families are strained as a result of lost income for unpaid caregivers and the impacts of stress on relationships and the health of family members. Employers are affected by lost work time and the consequences of stressed-out employees. The impacts on society more generally includes lost tax revenues, higher poverty rates, family bankruptcies and increased demands on social programs.


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