PM’s user fee agenda gets rough ride from chief medical officer

B.C.’s top public health official says we can preserve medicare without bringing in user fees.

According to media reports, Chief Medical Officer Perry Kendall says health care should be funded through general revenues and not from user fees which act as a tax on sick people. His comments come on the heels of a call from the prime minister who says user fees should be on the agenda of the royal commission on health care.

“We do need to explore new ways of strengthening our public health care system,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “But these efforts are undermined by politicians like Chretien who want to take us back in time when the poor, sick and elderly were forced to make the choice between groceries and medical care.

“Our chief medical officer deserves the support of our new provincial government in his efforts to bring a public health perspective to the issue of user fees,” adds Allnutt.

CUPE’s national president Judy Darcy and the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow are also speaking out against Chretien’s user fee agenda.

“For the second time in two months, politicians are trying to force privatization on the commission’s agenda and we won’t stand for it. Last month Mike Harris. This month the prime minister wants a look at user fees. This in spite of dozens of studies — including a major Saskatchewan report — showing user fees fail on many fronts, most disturbingly by denying care to the poor,” says Darcy.

“Chrétien’s comments look dangerously like a prime minister advocating abandoning the Canada Health Act. User fees would clearly violate the Canada Health Act. Chrétien along with Harris and Klein have had their chance to speak on health care — now we need to hear from the people who it affects directly, the citizens of Canada,” says Barlow.

Canadians are paying far too many health costs out of their own pockets, shouldering increasing expenses for prescription drugs, dental care, de-listed services and health insurance premiums. Far from strengthening Medicare, further privatizing costs onto the backs of individuals will erode Medicare for those who need it most — vulnerable poor and elderly Canadians.

Just last month, the B.C. Medical Association released a report calling for increased user fees and privatization of health care services. A subsequent HEU poll indicated that more than three-quarters of the B.C. public believe that Medicare should be expanded to cover home care and long-term care. Only 16 per cent favoured the BCMA’s proposal for tax-based individual health savings plans that would transfer the costs of elder care onto individuals.