Health, mental health and poverty in this election

With just under two weeks until the federal election, I have decided to spend the next two columns to check in on what each of the major parties have to say on the topics of health, mental health and poverty. Today I’ll take a look at the Conservative and Liberal parties’ platforms and next week we’ll see what the NDP and Green parties have to say on these important topics.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives don’t go into a great deal of detail in their platform to date. They do say they will negotiate a new Health Accord with the provinces and territories in 2014. The Conservatives also pledge to continue reducing wait times through a wait time guarantee for essential medical treatments and they want to focus on the importance of accountability and results. Attracting more doctors and nurses to rural communities is also a focus for the Conservative party and they want to do this by forgiving a portion of federal student loans for those agreeing to practice in rural areas.

Mental health and poverty are not specifically mentioned in the Conservative platform although some support for volunteerism and low income seniors is mentioned.

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals outline a few specific policies for healthcare. An interesting one relating to mental health is the pledge to create a brain health strategy in response to the increasing rates and burden of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. This would be implemented within their first year and include a public education campaign to promote health and combat stigma as well as $100 million over two years for research. Income security for patients and families, improvements in quality of treatment and support as well as the prevention of genetic discrimination by insurance companies etc are also priorities in this brain health strategy.

Prescription drug coverage and cost are also health care priorities for the Liberal party. They would like to explore ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the healthcare system and create a drug plan for all Canadians giving some coverage for prescription medicines.

The Health Accord is also a priority for the Liberal party with a focus on relieving pressure on families, improving health outcomes, quality in the healthcare system and containing long term costs of healthcare. The Liberals want to focus on homecare services and drug coverage in priority areas such as mental health and palliative care.

The Liberals also have something to say about poverty. In particular, they describe a desire to improve affordable housing in our country. If elected, they would increase federal investment in affordable housing by $550 million in the first two years. The Liberals also discuss the importance of developing a poverty reduction plan for Canada. This would include a Canadian Learning Strategy as well as early childhood learning and care and would involve a $5 billion platform over two years to reduce poverty and inequality in our country.

Although our health care system certainly needs some work and a re-focus on patient-centered care, the most important priorities for the health of Canadians, in my opinion, are to reduce poverty and ensure everyone has adequate housing. This is a public health measure like providing clean drinking water and public sewers. These general measures have a huge impact on the health of the population and would be much less expensive than providing more treatment to a population in poverty. It is well documented that people living in poverty are higher healthcare users and have higher instances of sickness and mortality than individuals not living in poverty. If we get the basic foundation right there should be less need for treatment and less costly treatment when it is necessary.

I will take a look at the NDP and Green platforms for next week. In the meantime, if you want to read more about what the Conservatives and Liberals have to say in their own words, check out their platforms at the links below:

Conservative:

http://www.conservative.ca/media/ConservativePlatform2011_ENs.pdf

Liberal: http://www.liberal.ca/platform/

 

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