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Reflecting on universal health care and where we go from here

Aaron Stuckel
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Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most integral parts of both Saskatchewan and Canadian history.

On July 11th, 1962, between 4,000 and 5,000 people marched to the Legislature in Regina to protest the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act. Doctors had already begun a strike following the onset of Medicare, and people were worried that they were going to lose doctors if the Act stayed in place.

But after the protest in Regina, the debate cooled, and doctors and government officials came to an agreement that kept universal medical care in place and kept Saskatchewan doctors happy. It was a true turning point in Canadian history.

But after 50 years of Medicare, has the system done us well?

In comparing our medical system with our neighbours south of the border, I believe Canada has an advantage. Anyone who has ever dealt with any insurance company knows that they are not there to give you as much money as they possibly can, and to have to deal with those added financial pressures when you are in a state of illness or emergency is something both unfamiliar and somewhat illogical to Canadians.

But there are problems with our healthcare system and I think it’s wrong to go on thinking that we don’t need to see change.

The health care system takes up just under 50 per cent of the province’s budget year after year, and with wait times growing and the constant battle to hire more staff being lost, taxpayers are not getting the quality of service they deserve.

I don’t mean to say that Saskatchewan’s healthcare employees don’t work hard enough or that they aren’t great at what they do. Lives are saved within the walls of our hospitals on a daily – if not hourly—basis. It’s something fundamentally wrong with the system itself that hampers the care our taxpayers receive.

Steps have been taken to curb these faults. The Saskatchewan government has been implementing a program called LEAN that has officials following patients in our hospitals and locating problems. The LEAN model is based off of a Toyota program that found inefficiencies and corrected them by speaking to frontline workers about the changes they thought needed to be made. As you might have noticed, Toyota is one of the most successful car companies today.

But even though the government, with some success, has focused on trying to somehow provide better service and save money at the same time by reducing inefficiency, some doctors are looking beyond the walls of the hospital as a means to reduce wait times and provide better patient outcomes.

At a recent book launch in Moose Jaw, Ryan Meili, who moved from the city to practice as a family doctor in Saskatoon, released a book called A Healthy Society that details his beliefs on how politics can change the healthcare system.

Meili’s main point was that, in actuality, hospitals and doctors are near the bottom of the list of what affects a person’s health. He said that its socioeconomic factors like income and education levels that really affect a person’s health, and if government’s wanted to focus on better patient outcomes, they should focus on fixing social issues.

Meili’s opinion reflects a growing movement in healthcare, and one that I think is important if Saskatchewan wants to once again be a leader in healthcare. Preventative medicine has become increasingly important as opposed to our current attitude of treating symptoms. Some new age doctors have already said that the cure for cancer has been found. And by cure, they mean not getting cancer in the first place.

Being the first North American region to implement a universal medical system is a major source of pride for many residents of Saskatchewan. But we’ve reached another turning point in the history of healthcare in the province, and if we want to continue that pride, we need to focus less on getting people through hospitals quicker, and more on keeping them out of there in the first place.

Organizations: Medicare, Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance, Toyota Healthy Society North American

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Regina, Canada Moose Jaw Saskatoon

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