Thursday, July 21, 2011

Working for Medicare

CBMH/BCHM.  Volume 26:2 2009

A long time promoter and political worker for Medicare realized that the first steps toward universal Medicare could be best met within the Community Clinics where Salaried Physicians worked in a team with other Health Professionals to look after the needs of the community.

I lived during the hungry thirties on a farm on the edge of the Dust Bowl. Being the seventh child in a family of ten, I learned the advantages and disadvantages of being poor.

I joined the RCAF Women’s division when I became of age. I was able to go to the University of Guelph and graduate as a chef to serve in the air force for three years. During that time I became aware that there were no shortages of anything. Why did it take a war to make this happen?

After the war, I came home to find the CCF under T. C. Douglas was the Government of Saskatchewan. Their policy was to improve conditions and to make medical care available to all regardless of their abilityto pay.

I then spent three years in Wisconsin from 1950 to 1953. This was the period when Senator Joseph McCarthy accused any left supporter of being Communist. As a supporter of the CCF and Medicare, I was warned to say I was a liberal with a small L. When I returned home to Canada, I was pleased to become part of the enthusiastic workers for Tommy Douglas and the CCF. I worked in the party all through the 50s as Councillor and Vice-President, travelling to homes throughout the province. Everyone had a story to tell of a child, a parent, or a friend who had had a problem getting good medical care when needed. But many had already felt the benefits from the Hospital Plan after 1947.

Political debates began to heat up when the legislation for Medicare was announced. A group of citizens decided to organize clinics as cooperatives where patients would be partners with the providers, with the objective being a comprehensive program and that the physicians would be paid on salary as part of the team. When the date of 1 July 1962, for the implementation of public medical care insurance was finally set … all hell broke loose.

For example, women in their last stages of pregnancy were told their doctors were leaving the province and would be replaced by “the garbage of Europe.” People who supported the program were called Communists and received death threats. A local Priest stated that there would be blood flowing in the streets if the program was implemented. Families were divided out of fear and confusion. By this time, Tommy Douglas had left for federal politics, but I never had any doubt there would be a change of heart in the party under Premier Woodrow Lloyd. He brought a calmness and stability with such force, that those of us who were in the ranks speaking at kitchen table meetings had complete confidence that we would succeed. There was massive opposition by the profession to which he would comment, “We are doing things together for the benefit of all.”

Although we were disappointed that all of our objectives were not met, when the strike ended, we were glad to have the first step toward universal care and went on working to reach that goal, thus the community clinics were set up as co-operatives to achieve it. Because there was intense community interest at the time, we were able to introduce a number of preventive health programs such as a weight loss club, an anti-smoking group, and a volunteer prenatal education class. This gave us hope that these programs would become a part of the universal health programs envisioned in 1962. A decade later, in 1972, we successfully renegotiated the method of payment from fee-for-service payment to individual doctors to a global clinic budget, and nutrition and foot care were added to our clinic programs.

Now that the determinants of poor health are recognized as a component of universality, the big question for me is, will there be political will to move in that direction or will the stake holders continue to
demand the status quo?

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