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Coalition fights to preserve free health care

Posted: August 28, 2017

(August 28, 2017)

By: M. McKinnon, Atikokan Progress 

What’s a giant teddy bear got to do with health care? “We can’t ‘bear’ to lose
medicare” says the Ontario Health Coalition, which has for nearly a decade been fighting off any erosion to Canada’s free medical care system.

Three coalition officials made Atikokan their first stop on a weekend tour of the North, August 11-14. “We have chapters in Kenora and Sioux Lookout, but this is the first time we’ve visited Atikokan,” said Jules Tupker, chair of the Thunder Bay chapter of the coalition. “Our number one priority is to protect public health care itself.”
Executive director Natalie Mehra said the coalition is constantly working to expose the way private, for-profit interests are elbowing their way onto the
scene. “Canada’s public health care system is under threat by private,
profits-seeking clinics that want to be able to bill OHIP for tests and surgeries and bill patients hundreds or even thousands of dollars as well,” she said. “User fees for medically-needed hospital and physician care are
unlawful under the Canada Health Act. We are drawing attention to this, explaining to patients their rights, and pushing back against the takeover of non-profit and public hospitals by private for-profit corporations.”

Sara Gutierrez, the OHC office manager, was also along for the tour, which went from here to Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookouit, Nipigon, Terrace Bay, and Marathon.
In British Columbia and Quebec, private clinics and user fees have become a major problem, and in BC private clinics have even launched a court challenge to laws that protect patients from user fees. “We’re looking at what is almost a full two-tier system [one for those who can pay extra, the other tier for those who can’t afford to] in B.C. and Quebec,” said Mehra.
In Ontario, the coalition has had some major successes in preventing the closure of rural hospitals, and in making people aware of the growing role of
private firms for services like lab tests, cataract surgery, and MRI and CAT scans.

It has also pressed government to fund hospitals at a level that will allow them to maintain services. After almost a decade of freezes and less-than-inflation-level increases, Ontario hospitals are h a r d – p r e s e d t o ma i n t a i n services. This year’s increase of two to three percent in base funding was a welcome change, but still less than the five percent most hospital officials and advocates felt was needed.

The coalition – which represents more than 400 member organizations including seniors’ groups; patients’ organizations; unions; nurses and health professionals’ organizations; physicians and physician groups that support the public health system;
non-profit community agencies; student groups; ethnic and cultural
organizations; residents’ and family councils; retirees; poverty and equality-seeking groups; women’s organizations, and others will continue to press the case. “How do we enhance hospitals for public service, so they are
more accountable and acceptable to the community?” said Mehra. “If you have any ideas or suggestions, let us know what you think at our website.”

The coalition will push to make health care an issue in the next provincial election, which will likely be held in June. All of the candidates will be asked about their exact plans for handling health care. “If they don’t answer the
questions, we will keep raising the issues,” she said.