Be more supportive of Medicare, Muzin urges business at forum on health issues

In a candid presentation at a special forum on health care issue Jan. 27 sponsored by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, HEU president Fred Muzin challenged B.C. business leaders to be more supportive of the public Medicare system, and recognize that our public health care system is an economic asset that gives Canadian companies a "competitive advantage that will expand opportunities on the world stage." Muzin thanked leaders of the Chamber for inviting him to speak, saying it was an "important first step in building trust" between business and labour, "and coming up with solutions to modernize our Medicare system." Speaking about the impact of government health care policy on front line workers, Muzin said the billions of dollars in transfer payment cuts by Ottawa have had a disastrous impact on health care, education and other social programs in Canada. He also highlighted the health labour accord, or employment security agreement, as a positive provincial government policy initiative that has set the tone for a different and more progressive approach to health care restructuring in B.C. "It's created the opportunity - and I would argue a responsibility - for health care workers and their unions to move beyond the normal defensive stance in approaching change, and for us to be involved in developing ideas and strategies for progressive change and innovation in health service delivery." He cited concrete examples of how HEU members have taken on that responsibility including improving and enhancing food service delivery and revenue generating opportunities to proposals for improved seniors' care services and initiatives to address the nursing shortage by promoting greater use of practical nurses and care aides. Focussing in on the crisis that had gripped hospitals across Canada around Christmas time, Muzin was critical of all levels of government for not going far enough nor fast enough in implementing community based and preventative health care services to take pressures off of acute facilities. "We don't have 24-hour care in the community or community health centres. We don't have creative supportive living arrangements or enough home care, a national drug plan to cover prescription costs outside of hospitals. Nor do we have doctors on salary and the holistic use of a range of care givers to provide services." And, criticizing Alberta Premier Ralph Klein's proposal for privatized surgical services and for-profit hospitals, Muzin said the most cost effective way to address the problems in Medicare is through an expanded, modernized Medicare system, not through the massive intervention of private, for-profit companies. While advocates of two-tiered U.S.-style health care like the Fraser Institute and BCMA president Ian Courtice delivered their standard pitch to about 150 business leaders, Muzin was joined in a defence of the public system in an effective presentation by Vancouver Hospital president Murray Martin. The head of B.C.'s largest hospital, Martin said many people had a naive understanding of the role of for-profit companies in providing health care services in other countries. Simply put, he said, these companies focus in on ìprofitable illnesses' while steering clear of the more complex unprofitable cases that are left for the public system.