Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

VIEW: Millennials should fight against for-profit health care

This August, I had the opportunity to attend the Peoples’ Social Forum in Ottawa. I was there to raise awareness about a charter challenge launched by Dr. Brian Day who is attempting to open the Canadian health care system up to two-tier service delivery. The day after the forum ended, Dr. Day’s legal team was back in the B.C. Supreme Court, requesting a delay of trial so they could broker a deal with the province. It’s worth noting here that Day launched his case in response to a provincial audit of his clinic that revealed $491,654 in over-billing in just 30 days. The deal that he and the province reach now will determine his penalties for violating B.C.’s health act.

While waiting to see what the resolution between Day and the B.C. government will be, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience at the People’s Social Forum. An alarming number of participants who visited my table gathered up handouts from my display while saying, “Thanks, I’m going to give this to my mom,” or, “These for my grandfather -- he’s really into the health care fight.” I was taken aback by the fact that Canadians under the age of 40 don’t seem to recognize their role in the fight to save our national health care system. This scares me because I worry my generation won’t realize their stake in this issue until it’s too late.

I admit that my personal experience with the health care system has given me insight on its importance. Two years ago, I got a phone call that I wasn’t expecting for at least another 20 years. My 54-year-old mother had gone in for CT scan complaining of abdominal pain. Following the scan, she was immediately hospitalized and we were told that she had terminal cancer. In the 11-month journey that followed, my mother received extraordinary care. From that initial hospitalization to the hospice where we finally said goodbye, we had access to the services that we needed without ever wondering if we could afford them.

Why should this matter to Gen-Xers and millennials? The most obvious answer is that our parents are aging and will need end-of-life care. But there’s a bigger story here about cost downloading, precarious employment, and chronic illness in Canada.

First, the cost downloading: Brian Day and others in the for-profit camp like to tell us that opening the health care system up to privatization will give us more choice. But what “choice” really means is that we would have the option to pay incredible sums of money to receive priority treatment. This idea of choice resonates with the under-40 crowd. We’ve been raised to believe that we can buy our way out of pretty much any problem.

Unfortunately, this belief doesn’t align with reality that the majority of us don’t have the financial means to afford priority health care. By the end of 2013, the average consumer debt for Canadians was $27,485 while the median income is $27,600. What these numbers show is that the average Canadian is already financially stretched beyond their means. There’s no room in this financial picture for additional health care costs.

This matters most for younger Canadians because, not only do we not have the financial capacity to cover additional health care costs, we increasingly don’t have access to health care coverage through employment. The notion that, if we were to transition to a privatized delivery system, employers would offer coverage does not line up with the lived reality of contract jumping that many of us are currently experiencing.

Precarious employment is on the rise in Canada, a fact that recent grads know best. Where permanent positions once existed, we now find ourselves competing for six, 12, and 18-month contracts that don’t include benefits. While this is bad enough when it applies to coverage for expenses like prescription drugs and physiotherapy, the rise of contract work would mean increased financial vulnerability in a two-tier health care system.

Precarious employment isn’t the only thing on the rise in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports “out of every five Canadians aged 20 years or older, three have a chronic disease and four are at risk of developing a chronic condition.” Chronic conditions like diabetes require lifelong monitoring, and access to health care services is critical to maintaining a reasonable quality of life. We need to stop thinking about our health care system as that thing that we will need in 30 years and start recognizing that we are increasingly likely to need care throughout our lives.

The longer that we ignore the public health care debate, the more we risk not having access to the care we need when we need it. It is the responsibility of our generation to advocate for the preservation and improvement of our universal health care system before it’s too late.

Katie Raso is an organizer with and a masters student in communications at Simon Fraser University.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus