This week my dad will be discharged from hospital in time to vote in the federal election. After receiving exemplary service from palliative care and the organ transplant team, we know what compassionate and high quality healthcare looks like. We also know how important it is to vote for a government that will stand up for – and scale up – examples of high quality healthcare in Canada.
Throughout grade school, my dad took me with him to vote. Before I knew anything about politics, I understood my parents’ pride in voting and democracy.
Now, as a family physician, the most important way I can help (and not harm) my patients, is to vote for healthcare in this election.
The problems in Canadian healthcare are curable with leadership and vision. However, the absence of federal leadership in healthcare is causing our system to fall short. Models exist that are built for patients and produce great outcomes at lower cost. But an uncritical focus on disease care rather than health care and the unquenchable thirst for more technology and unnecessary care secures a pathway towards unaffordability.
Costs rise, compromising other public services that are even more important to good health, like education, daycare, social services and environmental conservation. For many of my patients, the most important “cure” is a safety net: affordable housing, disability income, home care, rehabilitation care, counselling and early childhood programs. The epidemic of mental illness speaks of trauma and neglect for one another and is further calling us to action on health care rather than disease care.
One of the greatest tragedies of modern politics, characterized by austerity budgets and the delusion that we can’t afford public services, is that we believe the myth that we can no longer afford to care for one another. Yet in the dark hours of illness, uncertainty, vulnerability and disability, we hope that there will be someone there for us. Any of us can be in that position, literally, in a heartbeat. And yet recent elections perpetuate an “each man for himself” mandate that undermines our safety net through austerity and neglect. Without reform, health services can fail us when we are sick and vulnerable.
Failing to care for one another in times of need means that we fail each other ascitizens. If we identify only as “taxpayers” and not citizens, and if, as taxpayers, we simply demand the lowest taxes, then we tell our politicians that we cannot afford to care for one other. Values aside, caring for one another is cost effective and evidence based: Addressing the impact of poverty on health would save billions annually. Societies that spend more on social services spend less on healthcare. Societies with less inequality and more equal opportunity are the healthiest – and this is true for the wealthiest people who also live longer and healthier lives than their wealthy counterparts in more unequal societies.
When individual identity is destroyed by confrontations with mortality, pain, physical or mental illness, it is a dark night of the soul. When our collective identity as a caring people is confronted by poverty, greed, marginalization, ecological destruction and undermining of public institutions and democracy, it is a dark night of humanity.
The remedy is a movement not just for political change in Canada, but for a Canada that will stand up for a value we hold deeply: a strong, publicly funded healthcare system. We do not need more of the same, or band-aid solutions. Voting for healthcare is holding politicians accountable for improving and adapting Medicare, and renewing our commitment to care for one another. Caring for one another is the most important part of being a citizen and the most rewarding part of being human.
Look at party platforms on health care, then vote for health and #BetterMedicare in this election. Pharmacare and a national seniors’ strategy are excellent first steps towards a safer, more cost-effective and inclusive Medicare.
There isn’t a cure for all that ails us, but there can always be care when we are ailing. This election is calling us to stand together for the compassionate collective vision that Tommy Douglas captured in Medicare. I can’t think of what could be more healing for our country at this time than to restore ourselves as a compassionate and caring nation.
Vanessa Brcic is a research associate with the CCPA-BC, a family physician, UBC researcher, and executive board member with Canadian Doctors for Medicare.