There’s been a lot of talk about cultural differences and national security during the election, but little attention paid to the kinds of policies that could directly impact the health and happiness of Canadians. Here, we propose three public policy changes that, if taken seriously at the federal level, could not only make us happier and healthier, but actually save taxpayer dollars in the long run.
With a federal election looming, what we want for our country and what we want from our government is on the top of minds for Canadians. No matter your political stripe, it’s hard to oppose that it’s the duty of elected governments to promote happiness and good health for its citizens. Most would also agree it’s the duty of governments to do this, while at the same time being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. What if Canada could implement policies that would improve health and happiness, while still saving Canadians money? Sounds too good to be true, but these sorts of policy ideas do exist.
Canadians agree it’s time for strong leadership to reduce poverty
Canada is the only developed nation with a publicly funded healthcare system but no public coverage for medications. As a result, 1 in 5 Canadians have challenges affording the medications that they are prescribed. As healthcare providers on the frontlines, we see every day how this negatively impacts the health of our patients. Despite 91% of Canadians supporting a national pharmacare strategy, the perceived expense is often seen as a barrier to its implementation. However, recent research shows that national pharmacare would actually reduce Canada’s overall spending by $7.3 billion dollars per year via bulk-purchasing power, price negotiation, and better product selection.
National Housing Strategy
People without homes are 3-4 times more likely to die prematurely and have life expectancies that range between 42-52 years, compared to around 80 for the general population. Homelessness is a serious disease of social circumstance, affecting 235,000 Canadians every year. In a 2007 survey, a majority of Canadians felt that reducing homelessness should be a high priority for government. In 2009 the city of Medicine Hat partnered this public support with political will to become the first city in Canada to eliminate Homelessness.
Through strategies like ‘Housing First’, a National Housing Strategy is a viable approach to solving this public health epidemic. Also, affordable housing is a fantastic investment – it actually costs us less than homelessness. A Canada-wide study showed for every person enrolled in a Housing First program, net savings were $21,375 per year for those with high service and health needs, and $4,849 for all others. These savings come from avoiding costs of psychiatric hospital stays, emergency room visits, home or office visits with social services, shelter time, and prison time.
We can complete the promise of the Canada Health Act
We know income is one of the most important determinants of our health, with lower income causing higher prevalence of disease and decreased life expectancy. Income also impacts our food security, housing, and education creating an even greater impact on health outcomes. In 2011 The National Council on Welfare calculated that poverty costs Canadian taxpayers $24.4 billion dollars per year as a low-end estimate. The amount of money needed to bring every citizen up to the poverty line was only $12.3 billion dollars in that same year. Think of the yearly savings this sort of program would bring to our government. It’s no wonder polling has shown that 90% of Canadians agree it’s time for strong leadership to reduce poverty, and 46% already support a basic income plan. It’s time for real leadership on poverty reduction, and a basic income is the quickest way to do it.
With changes to our health and social policies that recognize the impacts of inequitable access to medicine, housing insecurity, and poverty on health status, we can complete the promise of the Canada Health Act — which aims to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada. Healthy public policy has been a fixture of Canadian politics in the past and can be a catalyst for a happier and healthier public in the future. On October 19th, we have an opportunity to encourage our nation’s politicians to begin addressing the wellbeing of our country not through rhetoric, but action and change.
Jon Herriot is a 4th year medical student at the University of Saskatchewan and a fan of healthy public policy. You can follow him on Twitter @JonHerriot.
Naheed Dosani is a family & palliative care doctor in Toronto serving people experiencing homelessness and a member of Health Providers Against Poverty. You can follow him on Twitter @NaheedD.