Public vs private health care

The Hon. Judy Streatch, M.L.A.
Government of
Nova Scotia

Dear Judy:

It was very kind of you to meet with our group at Grace McClung’s on May 25. I hope you got – and continue to get – some satisfaction on the subjects raised. I take for granted that for the most part our political representatives want to do the right and helpful things, but if they are to achieve their goals they need to know they have public support. I also believe that the wealthy and powerful can make their wishes known – but someone needs to make a special effort to speak for the common people. And you certainly gave us something to think about.

One problem you expressed had to do with letting the low income people know about the programs that were available to them. (Some people who are on low incomes tend not to do much reading. They may not have the necessary time nor education.) Some days after our meeting I was watching, on CPAC, a conference on medicare. I heard Tom Kent urge that the federal government should provide complete free pharmacare to all pre-school age children as a right, no matter what their family income. Then, he said, we could later raise the age limit to include all school children. Recognize the care of the children as a national responsibility, he said. It occurred to me that if all small children were entitled to the same benefits the word might get around better, a means test (always demeaning) would not be necessary, and the tendency to feel stigmatized because of poverty would be diminished. One might object that this would cause the tax burden to rise and that the wealthy could easily pay and would not need this benefit. Well then, we could retrieve the cost by increasing taxes on high incomes. We supply water, air, hospital beds, physician services and the protection of the law more or less equally and freely to all, as their rights as human beings and Canadian citizens, so why not prescribed medicines and other such benefits as well? This might solve your problem (and produce others.) Start provincially, and then, perhaps, involve the feds – as happened in the case of medicare.

As for the matter Grace outlined in her letter to you, that some employers seem to avoid paying benefits by hiring part-time workers, perhaps all employers could be required to pay benefits on all regular jobs, or on all jobs of over (say) 10 hours per week or paying over $80 per week. But if the barrier were set too low it would encourage the underground economy; I might try to avoid paying benefits to the boy who cuts my lawn once a week. The sooner the minimum wage is raised, the better.

Surely the two greatest and most shameful failings of the human race are war and poverty. It is a scandal that in this democratic and enlightened country some people have a hundred times the income of others; that speaks of discrimination and exploitation.

Anyone who accepts an income of a million a year while others are in want should be entitled to a stay in the hoosegow; or at least be thoroughly ashamed of himself. Everyone who can work should have a right to a decent-paying job, and anyone who cannot work should have a guaranteed income, large enough to live on. The climate of opinion needs to change before this can take effect, but there are many people who share this view.

(No, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of a communist party. But “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” sounds good to me and should be approved by government and every CEO. It should be accepted as an ideal in an enlightened and mature democracy, whether or not it is enshrined in law. We in North America have for many years tended to be overprotective of our capitalist system because those who have the most influence over public opinion have wanted to be free to increase their wealth and power. Thus in the thirties and forties the CCF was vilified by big business as being communist.)

Foodbanks are not the answer to the problem of the poverty gap; they are evidence of the failure of society and of the greed of a few. The problem is systemic and cannot be fixed with bandaids. Atlantica is not the answer: as long as there is no common minimum wage among the participating states and provinces, we shall be forced to pay lower wages. The same is true of free trade.

A couple of generations ago Al Capp (creator of L’l Abner) had a character by the name of General Bullmoose who went around declaiming “What is good for General Bullmoose is good for the country”. I believe someone (Guess who?) had said that what was good for General Motors was good for the country. A trickle down economy doesn’t work to the benefit of the average joe or jill; too little trickles down – it trickles up instead – or pours up. The poverty gap is still growing, provincially, nationally, internationally.

One of the most important functions of government is to protect the vulnerable/poor against the rich. But it is difficult to compete with the United States as long as the Republicans are in power and are reducing the taxes on the wealthy. (By the way, I read some weeks ago that the Democrats would give away the farm to the poor, and the Republicans would give it away to the rich.)

While I have your attention I want to say that I have just gone through a pile of newspaper clippings that I had squirreled away, and want to comment briefly on a few of them.

Some headlines give me joy and hope:

“Welfare recipients get chance to attend university with no penalty”

“Raising minimum wage to $10 in 3-5 years proposed”

“Paying less than a living wage is exploitation”

“NSP salaries: private profit at odds with the public good”

Others raise disturbing possibilities:

“Private health care on the way?”

“A prelude to private health care?”

Private health care would mean higher costs. Of course. It is a matter of simple common sense. Produce and buy in bulk; one size fits all – up to a point. Cut out the billionaire who is trying to make his second or third billion; we don’t need to add to his profits. In the US the total spent on health care per capita is far above Canada’s total, and over 30% of the population there (the poorer third) has no coverage. We have room to expand and improve, while still staying under American total figures, and still maintaining approximate equality of service to everyone.

There was a little rich girl whose teacher required her to write an essay on a poor family. “She started, “This family was very poor. The father was poor, the mother was poor, the children were poor, the governess was poor, the chauffeur was poor . . . “

It is not that the wealthy are bad or uncaring, but when one has spent his life in luxury, measuring success in terms of stocks and bonds and comparing oneself with other wealthy folk, it is hard to think in more realistic terms. The whole climate of thought is affected. In the Middle Ages there was an expression used in theological circles: Invincible Ignorance”. It is still alive today. We can never avoid it entirely.

Someone has said that the success of a civilization is measured by the way the most vulnerable are treated. In Luke 4:16ff. we are told that when Jesus was starting his ministry he went to the synagogue in his home town and read the lessons at the service. According to custom, the passage from the Torah was mandatory. But he was free to choose the reading from the Prophets, and picked two passages from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Three years later, according to the Gospels, Jesus was executed because he had championed the poor and criticized the domination (pyramid) system: he had criticized the greedy elite, and had interfered with the profits of wealthy business people who were exploiting the poor and who for business reasons had crowded the Gentiles out of “the Court of the Gentiles” – the only spot in Jerusalem set aside for foreigners to worship.

Some years ago, in Medellin, Columbia, a convocation of Roman Catholic bishops said in a statement that God had “a preferential option for the poor”. The term “Liberation Theology” is one that has great relevance for many people today. Its meaning is rooted in the escape from Egypt under Moses and in the realities of life for many millions of people in our world – including thousands of Canadians.

I spent eighteen years of my working life promoting “equality of opportunity” (Human Rights) a cause that was dear to the heart of Jesus.

Now you know where I stand.

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