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Canadian health ministers met last week to discuss the future of our health care system. While we express optimism a new Health Accord will be reached by federal and provincial governments, it is certainly cautious optimism. It is encouraging that the new federal government is setting a new tone and, unlike the previous government, meeting with provincial counterparts; however, some signals from the meeting do raise some real concerns.

1. Funding: No new money, and no new Health Accord… yet

CUPE is advocating for a new 10-year Accord, with stable, increased funding. CUPE has called for significant increases in transfer payments. A comprehensive agreement also needs to include national standards, to protect health care from privatization.

What the ministers’ statement said:  “The federal minister confirmed the federal government’s commitment to work collaboratively with provinces and territories toward a long-term funding arrangement, which would include bilateral agreements.”

Our concern: There are no commitments on new money or funding increases, at least for now. Our concern is that ‘bilateral agreements’ could mean further fragmentation and balkanisation of our health care system.

2. Seniors: no new strategy

What CUPE is advocating for: A real Seniors’ strategy and the creation of a continuing care program.

What the ministers’ statement said: “We must pursue a shift of health-care systems from a predominant focus on institutions and specialized care toward a greater emphasis on providing care in the home and community.”

Our concern: We are certainly in favour of home and community care, but not at the expense of the tremendous needs that already exist within long-care care facilities. There is concern that resources given to home care would be taken out of acute care or long-term care facilities. The federal Liberals promised three billion dollars to home care in the last election. This needs to be new, additional money.

3. Drugs: bulk-buying proposal may be counterproductive

What CUPE is advocating for: A full, coherent, public Pharmacare plan, to ensure drugs are more accessible and affordable.

What the ministers’ statement said: “Provincial and territorial ministers welcome the Government of Canada’s decision to join the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which negotiates lower drug prices on behalf of public drug plans.”

Our concern: Bulk-buying is one part of the solution but in and of itself it is not a national Pharmacare plan. What is proposed applies to public plans, covering about 10 million people in Canada. The other 25 million, who have private plans or no plan at all, will not benefit from this scheme. Worse, drugs companies often ‘cost-shift’, meaning that the lower prices they would offer to public plans may be compensated by higher prices on everybody else. This could actually make the situation worse for most Canadians.

CUPE hoped for stronger commitments from the ministers and we are cautiously optimistic that further pressure will move the ministers to agree to a new Health Accord. We need new national strategies on seniors and prescription drugs and strict enforcement of the Canada Health Act. Piecemeal measures will not protect our public health care system.

CUPE will continue to pressure all levels of government to commit to a new health accord. On January 26, many CUPE members joined 130 activists from the Canadian Health Coalition in a lobby of 140 Members of Parliament, in Ottawa.