The recently released Alberta Pharmaceutical Strategy outlines some major changes to our health care system. If you have read it carefully, you likely feel the same sense of outrage as I do.
There are at least three things about the strategy that are troubling.
First, it will have a major impact on the ability of people to receive the treatment they need, and middle income seniors will be most seriously affected.
Instead of paying only 30 per cent of the cost of prescription drugs to a maximum of $25 per prescription, as has been the case for many years, seniors will now be required to pay the full cost of each prescription until costs reach a threshold amount which is based on gross income.
This group of people, nearly all on fixed incomes, who built medicare and have supported it all their working lives, are now being told that they can look out for themselves. There will no doubt be some who will decide that they can’t afford their treatment any longer. That troubles me.
The second troubling thing is that it is just one more assault on our medicare system. There was a time half a century ago in Canada when health care was an individual responsibility. You could have whatever health care if you could pay for it. Otherwise you could go without, unless some charitable organization offered help.
Things have changed since then. Health care has become a shared responsibility, and people can obtain health care based on need, not on their ability to pay. Costs are shared through the tax system.
In contrast to this, the United States has continued all these years with the old “personal responsibility” model. Government involvement is limited to aiding the destitute and the elderly. As a result, they have the most expensive health care system in the world, one that provides opportunities for large corporations to make unseemly profits, yet leaves over 45 million Americans without any health care coverage.
For some reason, there are forces that would see Canada go back to that old system. This new pharmaceutical strategy is just one more step toward the abandonment of Canadian values and the Americanization of health care. That is certainly troubling.
The third troubling thing is the lack of credible consultation by government. When I inquired about this, I received a reply from Health Minister Liepert: “Before the strategy was released considerable input was received from stakeholder groups.”
Perhaps it is significant that he did not say there had been consultation during the planning and preparation of the new strategy, only that there had been “input” prior to its release.
Liepert assigned one MLA, Jonathon Denis of Calgary-Egmont, to contact a number of “stakeholders” about the plan. The report tells us that from July 1 to August 8, 2008 Denis “held meetings with16 stakeholder groups representing patients, physicians, pharmacists, employers, benefit providers, and the pharmaceutical industry,” and also that “input was received from four other interested parties”.
All of this in five short weeks during summer holiday time, and by September he had prepared his seven-page report complete with seven recommendations.
Yet we are supposed to believe that there was wide consultation and presumably enough agreement with the minster’s ideas for him to push through his new plan.
On Page 9 of the stakeholder consultation report (which you can find online at www.health.alberta.ca/initiatives/health-action-plan.html#pharma”) there is a list of the 20 stakeholders contacted. There are several significant omissions.
First, although the terms of reference for Denis stated explicitly that he was to include “patient and business advocacy representatives including but not limited to Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, Friends of Medicare, Health Charities Coalition of Canada”, there is no indication that Friends of Medicare was contacted.
Secondly, there is no indication of consultation with any seniors advocacy group. Two individuals from the Seniors Advisory Council are named, but they are part of a 10-member board appointed by the Minister.
So far as I am aware, the ones named on Denis’s list are not active in seniors’ advocacy groups such as the Alberta Council on Aging and it is hard to see how they can adequately represent seniors.
So Minister Liepert is all set to introduce a new pharmaceutical strategy, entirely at odds with the spirit of the Canada Health Act and a giant step toward the privatization of our health care system, wanting us to believe he has consulted with the people, when in fact he has not consulted at all.
He should have been at the meeting at Red Deer College recently when over 250 concerned citizens, nearly all seniors, crowded into the Margaret Parsons Theatre to hear two Edmonton representatives of provincial advocacy groups (Public Interest Alberta and Citizens Watch on Continuing Care) comment on his plans.
Or the meeting of the Central Alberta Council on Aging the following morning with over 200 seniors filled at the Legion to hear a well-informed local pharmacist with specialization in geriatric pharmacy explain what the new strategy will mean to them.
Then he might have received some meaningful feedback from citizens.
But since he wasn’t there — and neither were any of the MLAs for Central Alberta — people will just have to phone them and write to them all to let them know that they are on the wrong track. Pick up the phone!