What is happening to our “free” healthcare?

Canada’s public healthcare system is something a lot of us are fond of and sometimes brag about to any American who will listen.

So why do we keep hearing about services shifting to privatized companies?

At what point does a system become “public” in name only?

Are we in danger of having our public dollars fund something that is really a private, for-profit system?

People sometimes casually call our system “free.” Of course it is not that simple—we all pay taxes to the government and then the government takes a big chunk of those
taxes and spends it on healthcare. The seemingly “free” part comes in when all Ontarians, regardless of income, can access services easily and without paying out of pocket.

It has served many of us well when we really needed to see a doctor or get a test or exam done or visit the ER by flashing our health card or giving our name. It helps us deliver babies. Save lives. Guide us through the end stages of our lives. All without forcing us put off getting the care we need or go bankrupt in the process.

But over the last couple of decades, we’ve started paying more out-of-pocket for medications and procedures. And we’ve seen more and more private companies take the lead on providing care.

Dia[b]logue recently reported on a forum where the Vice-President of Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital spoke of some concerns about new services being sent out of hospitals to community-based clinics.

Those concerns include whether hospitals will be left with not enough funding to do the most complicated procedures, and whether private clinics have enough accountability measures in place to know that they are using public funds appropriately.

SEIU Healthcare is part of the Ontario Health Coalition and its campaign Save our Services! The Coalition held a mock referendum for healthcare throughout Ontario on March 29. Over 56,000 people “voted” for public healthcare.

It seems like we have a strong appreciation for “free” or public healthcare and we need to be vigilant because efforts are underway to make it less and less so.

G.W.

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