Canadians Deserve Truly Universal Health Care



Canada’s universal health care system has kept many people from dying or going bankrupt during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, although Canadians have access to the services of a physician, the country’s health care system does not include services like prescription drugs and dental care. These services are generally accessible through private employment insurance and direct payments. As a result, large segments of the Canadian population do not have access to these essential services.

With the recent federal election resulting in a minority parliament, the Liberals need the support of other parties to govern. This represents a great opportunity for the New Democratic Party (NDP). In return for the NDP’s support, the party is expected to demand an expansion of the health care system as part of any post-pandemic stimulus package.

In Canada, prohibitive costs mean that one in ten prescriptions go unfulfilled. Many more patients are trying to cut their pills in half for the same reason. This is because Canada is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to offer universal health care that does not include prescription drug coverage.

Therefore, after using the nation’s universal medical services, many Canadians are unable to follow the recommended treatment due to the cost of medication. When people do not take their medications, their health deteriorates and many end up in an emergency room needing treatment for easily preventable illnesses. According to government calculations, these background costs burden the system with more than $ 1 billion in additional health care spending each year.

Canadians spend the third highest amount per capita in the world on prescription drugs. It is only in relation to the cost of pharmaceuticals in the United States that drug prices in Canada might appear reasonable. Compared to the rest of the North, drug costs in Canada are outrageous. Estimates show that a universal pharmacare plan would not only improve the health of Canadians but also reduce prescription drug spending by more than $ 4 billion per year due to the ability to buy in bulk and using generic drugs.

Dental care is also excluded from Canada’s universal health care system. One in three Canadians does not have dental insurance, and more than one in five shun the dentist each year due to financial constraints. Without access to dental care, people deprive themselves of preventative services and early intervention, allowing small problems to fester until pain and infection occur.

Lack of access to dental care leads to poor oral health, the consequences of which extend beyond the mouth. Poor oral health has been linked to the following health problems: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, low birth weight infant, aspiration pneumonia, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and stroke. Having missing teeth or visible decay can affect employability, further exacerbating the cycle of poverty for those without access to care.

The pain of a toothache is excruciating. As a dentist, I have seen countless people who have tried to extract their own teeth. Leaving dental infections untreated can be fatal when they spread to the brain or compress the airways. A person from the Sioux First Nation recently died of complications from a dental infection.

Emergency room visits for dental pain cost over $ 150 million a year, yet people still need treatment from a dentist. Emergency room visits are also made by people who cannot fill their prescriptions or who cannot access mental health services. There are better places than the emergency department to treat these people, and many of these emergencies wouldn’t happen if people had proper access in the first place.

Compared to other countries, the provincial and federal governments in Canada are particularly bad at helping those without access to dental care. Canadian government spending accounts for just 5% of dental spending – which is even lower than the US, which spends 10% – and well behind the UK’s 46% and Japan’s 75%.

As Canadians rely primarily on work-related insurance and out-of-pocket payments to access these services, financial downturns are causing people to lose access to care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Canadians found themselves unemployed and lost their work-related benefits as well as the income available to pay for these services. This very recent story illustrates the precariousness of work-related health insurance.

Access to work-related benefits deteriorated for years – they were getting worse long before the pandemic. Many older people retire and lose their work-related benefits. The growing number of workers in the precarious odd-job economy, which does not provide benefits, also increases the number of people without access to health care.

The result of the inability of millions of Canadians to access necessary medical services is a poorer country. As a result, excessive pressure is put on the existing health care system. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting financial downturns have only exacerbated this problem. And, of course, that’s exactly when the healthcare system was needed most.

A report earlier this year found Canada to have the worst record among wealthy countries for deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care (LTC) facilities. As a result, hundreds of thousands of elderly people ended up in intensive care units. The problem was exacerbated by the poor performance of private LTC facilities – death rates at for-profit LTC facilities were several times higher than their nonprofit counterparts.

The cost reduction efforts of private LTC facilities have resulted in understaffing, insufficient PPE, and many residents crammed into small rooms. LTC greed has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and strained an already stressed healthcare system. Canada must bring all of its LTCs under public control.

There have been no better opportunities to expand Canada’s universal health care system than today. In the 1960s, universal health care was achieved in consecutive NDP-backed liberal minority parliaments. With the 2019 and 2021 federal elections yielding similar results, the NDP is in a very good position to push the Liberals to expand the health care system. A new Canada Health Act can be created that outlines the criteria provinces must meet to be eligible for the transfer payments needed to fund new programs. It is simply a matter of political will.

In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services stated that a universal health insurance plan for physician services should be implemented immediately, but that additional services could be included at a later date. Today, more than half a century later, these additional services are long overdue.

The expansion of universal health care in Canada to include dental care, prescription drugs, long-term care, vision, hearing and mental health would improve the health of the population and free up resources within the our current health care system. Universal health care systems tend to cost less than private American-style systems, while performing better. To quote Emmett Hall, head of the 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services: “The only thing that costs more than good health care is the lack of health care. “


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