Canadians fear for future of health care

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by THE CANADIAN PRESS

The vast majority of Canadians fear for the future of health care, concerned over the potential for declining quality and rising costs of services to support an aging baby-boomer population, according to a report.

In its annual report card on health care, the Canadian Medical Association had pollster Ipsos Reid gather public opinion about Canadians’ perceptions and expectations of long-term health and health- care needs.

According to the findings released Monday, 80 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were concerned quality of health care in the country would decline due to the strain on the system caused by aging boomers.

What’s more, 79 per cent of respondents worry the system won’t be able to offer the same level of coverage as that segment of the population reaches retirement age. Along with concerns over quality of care, Canadians are worried about footing the bill for increasingly costly health-care services, both for themselves and aging boomers.

More than three-quarters worry they’ll have to pay additional taxes to support the system. Roughly the same proportion fear they won’t have enough money to maintain their own health as they age, topping concerns over being able to afford retirement (68 per cent) and losing a job (38 per cent).

The bulk of Canadians polled believe political leaders need to step up to effect change. Some 85 per cent agreed challenges brought on by the aging population signal that the time has come for federal, provincial and territorial governments to negotiate a new health-care funding agreement.

Outgoing CMA president Dr. Anne Doig said in a release the report sends a “clear signal to decision-makers.”

“Canadians want an open dialogue on the tough issues in health care and they want it to start now,” she said.

Doig also noted that this year’s report card shows young adult Canadians are bracing for increased health-care costs in the future.

“We know that as people age, they require more health-care services and right now, there is a very real worry that unless it is significantly transformed, our health-care system will not be able to meet the needs of future generations,” she said.

The report card found adults aged 46 and under are far more likely than boomers to prepare for rising health-care costs.

The poll found younger adults are more prepared to buy long-term health insurance and to purchase health-care insurance to supplement public coverage in their retirement.

Younger respondents were also more inclined to dip into planned retirement savings to help pay for future health costs and to alter retirement plans by working longer or travelling less.

While those surveyed are clearly concerned over health care’s future, the report reveals there’s little change in public views concerning access and government handling of the present system.

In this year’s report card, 75 per cent of Canadians gave an A or B grade for quality of health-care services available, versus 74 per cent in 2009.

The federal government was assigned an A or B by 41 per cent of respondents, up one percentage point over last year. The same percentage of Canadians gave their provincial governments either an A or B grade, compared to 42 per cent last year.

The CMA cautions that the “similarly middling grades” for both Ottawa and the provinces translates into uncertainty among Canadians concerning whether health-care services will improve or worsen in their communities over the next two or three years.

The report found 35 per cent of respondents believed services would get better, while 51 per cent said they would get worse.

The Ipsos Reid online survey of 3,483 Canadian adults, conducted in June, has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.66 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Release of the report coincides with the CMA annual meeting, being held in Niagara Falls, Ont., through Wednesday.