Vital measures needed to rebuild medicare, improve the health of Canadians

The Report: February / March 1999 vol.19 num.6

A group of national and community organizations released an AlternativeFederal Budget in late January that says vital measures are needed to resuscitateCanadas ailing health care system and improve the social and economic well-being ofCanadians.

-Thirty years after Canadians built a publicly-funded, universalhealth care system, Medicare is in crisis," said Pat Armstrong, Director of CanadianStudies at Carleton University and chair of the AFB health policy committee. -In itslopsided battle against the deficit, Ottawa has walked away from its responsibility as theguardian of Medicare. Our budget, by contrast, recognizes the critical role the federalgovernment must play in the health care system and presents a comprehensive, multi-yearplan to ensure that all Canadians, no matter where they live, receive the care they needwhen they need it."

Vital Measures: The 1999 Alternative Federal Budget proposes anadditional public investment in Medicare of $2 billion in 1999, and $4 billion per yearover five years. The budget also dedicates $2 billion for a public home care program and$500 million for the phasing in of a National Pharmacare plan.

-Our budget will protect and improve the health of Canadians notonly by reinvesting in Medicare, but also by addressing the root causes of poor health...unemployment, poverty, inequality, lack of access to education, and environmentalpollution," said Paul Leduc Browne, senior research fellow with the Canadian Centrefor Policy Alternatives.

Under the AFB plan, validated by the independent economic forecastingfirm Informetrica, the unemployment rate falls below six per cent by 2001 and the povertyrate is reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent in four years. This is accomplished at thesame time as the budget is balanced and the overall federal tax-to-GDP ratio remainsconstant.

-Despite what Finance Minister Paul Martin has been saying inrecent days, the federal government is poised to reap huge budget surpluses over the nexttwo years," said Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers Union andchair of the AFB macroeconomic committee. -Using the surplus to pay down the debt orcut taxes at this time is pure folly. With continuing global financial instability,its important the surplus be spent on public programs to stimulate job creation andeconomic growth here in Canada."

The AFB increases core program spending by $12 billion in 1999 andincreases unemployment insurance benefits by $6 billion.

-Lets be absolutely clear that the federal government hasbalanced the books on the backs of some of the poorest Canadians ... theunemployed," said John Loxley, professor of economics with the University of Manitobaand co-chair of the AFB steering committee. -Cuts to unemployment insurance benefitsaccount for half the total cut in program spending in recent years. Our budget restoresand improves benefits to the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Canadians who have paidpremiums but have been shut out of the system."

The Alternative Federal Budget, now in its fifth year, is coordinatedby the Canadian Centre for PolicyAlternatives and CHO!CES: A Coalition for Social Justice. The AFB is a project of abroad range of national and community organizations dedicated to showing there aresensible alternatives to the current governments fiscal and monetary policies.

Sources: CanadianCentre for Policy Alternatives and CHO!CES: A Coalition for Social Justice.