As Canadians, we are rightly proud of our health care system. In 2004, the “Father of Medicare,” Saskatchewan politician and visionary Tommy Douglas, was crowned in a CBC poll as the Greatest Canadian, and more than a decade later, he and the system he helped create continue to define Canada. More than a set of interlocking provincial and territorial health insurance programs, Medicare has become the highest expression of Canadians caring for one another.1 Our public health care system touches us at all stages of life: from the day we were born, attended by doctors, nurses, and midwives; through our infancy, with the immunizations and check-ups our primary healthcare team gave us then; through our adult years, when we were supported by emergency care and regular appointments at the family doctor; and to the last days of our lives, when medical professionals will provide us with compassion and empathy in palliative care.
Yet flaws are readily apparent in this system that we all rely on, and they were made all the more apparent during the global COVID pandemic. Among these critical gaps are access to prescription drugs, long-term care (LTC), community-based mental health, and dental care—and differential access based on race, gender, geography, or immigration status. Pre-pandemic, the role of public health was invisible to many Canadians. That is, hopefully, no longer the case. Though public health is outside the traditional conception of Medicare, it can no longer be seen as the poor cousin of the health care system.
So is our pride in our Medicare system misplaced? No—but, it mustn’t stop us from imagining a better one, a truly comprehensive health system that spans acute to chronic care and hospitals to community-based services and public health, and that covers residents in Canada from the cradle to the grave. It must not merely provide access to an insurance program and medical services; it must provide access to programs and services of the highest possible quality. Right now too many Canadians have to choose between essential medication and being able to afford nutritious food, too many go for months or years suffering from tooth decay because they can’t afford to visit a dentist, and millions suffer within the depths of depression because they cannot gain access to therapy or counselling.
Download the Medicare 2.0 - Report
This report is part of our Essential Solutions Project, which brings together experts across multiple disciplines to generate innovative answers to the complex challenges we face right now, and chart a path towards a more equitable and resilient future for all of us.