For decades we have been led to believe that Canada’s health care system was designed to guarantee availability of universal health care to all citizens, irrespective of economic status.
Since the implementation of universal health care, the overall population has been growing steadily. In hindsight, it appears that sustainability of the universal health care plan and changing demographics were not adequately addressed at the time of implementation. As a result, we now have a universal health care system that is struggling to adjust to the realities of health care demands to support an expanding elderly population in a stagnant economy.
The new realities of health care for the elderly are related to how health services are provided in an environment of ongoing fiscal cutbacks. Many provinces are scaling back the number of procedures previously included in the annual health check for healthy adults. This could be a disastrous move since annual health checks are seen as a preventive form of health care to detect certain illnesses and diseases. Refer to these links:
Ontario moves to scale back annual physical exams in new deal with doctors
Wealthier Ontario seniors may be asked to pay for home care costs
The scaling back of certain procedures suggests that the elderly will have to pay for required tests that are no longer included with annual checkups. This option to pay should only apply to those seniors who can afford to pay for these preventive procedures. It is a well-known fact that a staggering range of complex and chronic health issues accompany old age. Surely we are not reverting back to a system in which the quality of patient care will depend upon the financial capacity to pay. Could the idea of free health care services for all continue to be financed with the ballooning elderly population?
The pain from fiscal cutbacks combined with a growing elderly population is also being felt in some long term care facilities and home care services. We are all too familiar with the disturbing reports of poor care and abuse in nursing home facilities for the elderly. While there are some good care facilities, there have been an increasing number of disturbing cases of elder abuse at some facilities.
It appears that some facilities are operated with too few staff in an effort to cut costs. This situation can only be improved with public funding, or the client will be forced to pay more for an acceptable level of care. The reality is that, without additional funding, we will have to move toward more privatization of health care. How many of the elderly will be able to afford the costs for additional private care?
A modest increase in funding for health care was included in the 2013 Canadian Action Plan. This plan also recognized the value that home care plays in supporting good quality of life for frail and vulnerable seniors by allowing expanded tax relief for home care. This approach to providing care is seen as a more effective way to reduce health care costs and quell concerns about the type of care provided by some care homes. The tax relief enables health care to be shifted from a costly institution to the more affordable comfort of a person’s home. Even with the tax breaks, not many of the elderly will be able to afford the costs for home care services.
It would not be fair to have a discussion about universal health care without acknowledging the untiring efforts by Tommy Douglas to end health care inequalities. Starting with the introduction of Medicare, great strides have been made to realize the vision of this great Canadian. It is deplorable that 50 years later the vision of Tommy Douglas for universal health care would encounter so many obstacles or would be in jeopardy of reverting back to more privatized health care.
The introduction of universal health care was intended to make sure no one is faced with financial ruin if they got sick. We in Canada cannot expect to have every minor health issue covered by our health care system — the ‘reality’ is that such an expectation is not sustainable! Didn’t any of the social planners foresee that the ballooning elderly population and the on-going financial and economic challenges would continue to afflict the quality of life of the elderly?
These are the new realities seniors with modest incomes will have to face as they struggle to balance their daily living costs with the additional costs of adequate health care.