Seniors’ health comes first for most Canadians

By Lauren Vogel | CMAJ | Aug. 18, 2016

Most Canadians want a new accord to prioritize seniors’ health and prescription drug coverage. (Canadian Medical Association)
Most Canadians want seniors’ health to take top priority under a new health accord, but few realize that new funding talks are underway, according to the 16th Annual National Report Card on Health Care by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

Only 15% of Canadians polled by Ipsos Reid for the report were aware the federal government is renegotiating how it provides health funding to provinces and territories. Even so, most people agreed on what a new accord should include.

At the top of their wish list: a national seniors’ health strategy, which 84% of Canadians ranked as very or somewhat important. Seventy-four percent supported additional federal payments to provinces and territories with older populations.

“Over the next 20 years, the number of seniors in Canada is going to double and the number over the age of 85 is going to quadruple, and we will have increased demands, challenges and costs looking after them,” says CMA President Dr. Cindy Forbes. “I don’t believe we can continue to spend money on the same things.”

The current model of divvying up federal health dollars on a per-capita basis doesn’t reflect that some provinces have older populations with greater health care demands, Forbes explains.

As a family physician in Nova Scotia, she already sees long waits for home care, consultants and long-term care. “Some of my patients can wait over a year and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be placed in their own communities,” Forbes says. “If we don’t change what we’re doing, we know these problems will continue to get worse.”

 

Three-quarters of Canadians gave the overall health services available to them an A or B grade, but less than half gave home care the same rating.

In the survey, 79% of respondents said home care is very or somewhat important to address in a new health accord, placing it after improved mental health services (83%), prescription drug coverage (80%) and palliative care (80%).

The federal government promised $3 billion for home care as part of its 2015 election campaign, and Forbes hopes some of the money will be dedicated towards an innovation fund to scale up already successful home care initiatives.

However, survey respondents tended to disagree with an emphasis on innovation: 55% indicated that new money should be spent on fixing existing health services, rather than modernizing the system.

Forbes argues that a new health accord should also include first steps towards a national pharmacare plan.

“No Canadian should be unable to fill a needed prescription because of the cost,” she says. “One immediate step would be providing catastrophic drug coverage to make sure that no one has to pay more than $1500 per year for prescription medication.”

Whatever the final funding commitment, 67% of Canadians agreed that the federal government should require provinces to report back on common indicators.

“There is an appetite among Canadians for accountability and in order to do that, we need to know our priorities, our goals and how will we measure them,” says Forbes.

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