The incoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau, likes to talk about “real change”. And according to B.C.’s longest-serving MP, voters can expect this to occur in Canada’s health-care sector.
Dr. Hedy Fry has represented Vancouver Centre since 1993 and has most recently been the Liberal health critic.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, she stated that her party is intent on negotiating a new health accord with the provinces and territories.
“That’s a really number one, top-of-the-chart issue for us,” Fry said.
The Vancouver Centre MP pointed out that when the last 10-year federal-provincial health accord expired in 2014, the Conservatives moved to a per-capita funding model.
She claimed that this policy increased inequality and imposed greater pressures on provinces with large numbers of seniors.
“Alberta got a windfall of almost a billion dollars and Nova Scotia got $17 million in new money,” Fry noted.
She estimated that over the next 10 years, the Conservative government’s per-capita model would have resulted in $35 billion less in federal funding for health care. Unlike Stephen Harper, Trudeau plans to discuss health care with leaders of the provinces and territories, which have constitutional jurisdiction over this area.
“Everyone will see if they [the provinces and territories] buy into the plan or not, which is how it’s always worked,” Fry said. “The bottom line is we think that evidence is showing that every other country with a universal health-care system is actually basing the outcomes of their system on very clear indicators. We don’t have the very clear indicators.”
More than two million Canadians receive some form of home care. The Liberals are planning to invest $3 billion in this area over four years. Fry emphasized that this is part of a broader plan to shift the delivery of health care into the community to ensure people only go to hospital when it’s necessary.
“The money that is saved could go into a whole lot of other areas of health care,” she said. “This is what the successful countries are doing.”
Fry mentioned that she would like to see greater emphasis placed on health promotion, disease prevention, and multidisciplinary community teams in a “person-centred system”.
In some other countries, she said, these teams include social workers, housing advisers, counsellors, psychiatric nurses, and psychologists.
“Housing for the mentally ill [in Canada] tends to be prison or the street,” Fry added. “We don’t have the ability to house them in an appropriate manner. So these are some of the things we’re plugging into the system. So it’s going to be a different way of looking at it.”
She also mentioned that good transit can enhance people's access to healthy food and health services.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have promised to end the Canadian Blood Services ban on accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with men.
In addition, during the campaign the Liberals pledged to introduce rules restricting “commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children” and “tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats”.
The party platform offered assurances that a Liberal government will lower the cost of prescription medications by negotiating with provinces to engage in bulk buying. The document also promised to improve access to medications.
“We will prioritize decreasing the number of harmful, adverse drug reactions by improving reporting, and ensuring more research and follow-up on reported adverse effects,” the platform stated. “We will continue to ensure timely approvals for new medicines, many of which not only improve patient health, but reduce overall health care costs as well.”
In 2013, Fry told the Straight that Canadians were spending $14 billion more than was necessary on prescription drugs, either individually or through their insurance plans.
She based this figure on research compiled by UBC professor Steve Morgan, who specializes in researching pharmaceutical policies.
The Straight asked the Vancouver Centre MP last week if the UBC professor would offer advice to the incoming Liberal government.
“I would hope that Steve Morgan would play a huge role,” Fry replied. “Steve Morgan has already been a person that I have consulted a lot.”