Senior Musings March 2014

Posted 02.01.14
This first appeared on the OpEd Page of the Ottawa Sun

Quebec Still Shortchanging Seniors

Canada's health accord is expiring at the end of March. The accord is supposed to guarantee "universal health care" and a briefing note prepared for the minister last fall stated that the government is committed to "publicly-funded, universally accessible healthcare," but any private delivery of insured services should not bear any charges to patients.

Those of us who live in Quebec know to what extent this promise has been broken over many years.

There have been no family doctors available in most of West Quebec for a long time, and those of us who can't find an accessible clinic are paying private doctors. The Quebec government won't reimburse us for this expense, unless we're seeing a doctor in Ontario.

I think my experience is very typical of West Quebec seniors who have lost family doctors in the past decade, and have been unable to find essential health care in the public system. When my doctor retired, I was put at the top of the priority list because of my age and the fact that I take five prescribed medications daily.

Every time I phoned back, I was told I was still at the top of the list, but no doctors were available. After two years of scrambling to get prescriptions refilled, with no annual check-up or blood tests, my optometrist referred me to a private doctor he'd found.

Last year I saw my doctor twice, and paid him $350. Because of my limited income, I didn't go to see him when I had a serious sinus infection, a bad fall, or the flu.

Like many women who lose their husbands to death or divorce after age 60, I found myself without insurance. No longer covered by the federal government health insurance plan, I had too many pre-existing conditions to obtain new insurance at a reasonable rate.

Clinics don't provide the level of continuing care that most seniors require. Many aren't accessible without stairs, or so busy that one has to line up early in the morning in order to obtain a number allowing you to return later. Many seniors can't do that.

The Gatineau Hospital has notoriously long waiting times in the ER, so that's not an option unless you arrive by ambulance. Other hospital services have diminished considerably in the past few years.

An extensive renovation to the entrance contains an escalator, which means that anyone using a wheelchair, walker, or pushing a stroller has to walk a long corridor to get to the elevator lobby. There is no free handicapped parking. The hours for blood tests have been reduced, as have the number of nurses performing this service. It can take months to obtain the results of x-rays.

On my 2013 tax form, I note the following charges from Quebec for various "health fees." $107 -- for "Health Services," $571 -- for "Medical Insurance," and $200 -- for the "Quebec health contribution." I have no idea what these fees represent.

But in 2013 I paid $650 in prescription co-pays, as well as more than $1500 in prescribed devices and OTC meds. These included physiotherapy and acupuncture to relieve chronic pain, podiatry, and various mobility devices to allow me to remain in my own home.

Statistics aren't available, but informal surveys show many singles or older couples who don't have family close by are still living in older homes and can't afford to move into expensive retirement homes. One wonders how many are struggling if they need to see a doctor more often than I do.

What is Quebec going to do with its aging population if our health declines to the point where we can no longer remain in our own homes? Do they have plans to build more nursing homes and pick up the expense of warehousing seniors who can't afford to move into retirement complexes?

Most of us still pay taxes, including on LIF withdrawals which will be exhausted by age 90. What will we do then?

According to federal government figures released by Mr. Flaherty's office, Ontario will receive less in transfer payments this year. But Quebec will receive a $1.78 billion increase! A significant portion of this is designated to provide "universal health care" without any charge to patients for "insured services."

Where does Quebec spend the billions of dollars earmarked for healthcare? Not to hire more family doctors, or to improve service at local hospitals, or to open free clinics in locations accessible to those with mobility problems and open longer hours.

I find it ironic that, as we see the health accord expire, we are filling out tax forms which list how much the "health services fund, "medical insurance" and "health contribution" cost, realizing how few benefits we receive.

Barbara Florio Graham is an author and publishing consultant who lives in Gatineau. She is still working in order to maintain a basic standard of living and afford essential healthcare. Her website is: http://SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2014 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.14