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‘People have lost faith and trust’: What’s missing from the Liberal’s healthcare promises

While delivering remarks in Hamilton, Ont. on Monday morning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pointed to his government’s track record of healthcare investments when asked how he intends to pay for his newly-announced $6 billion investment in Canada's health care system.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced a number of promises on Monday to improve Canada‘s healthcare system, but experts say the plans so far lack key details and may not result in the deep changes that are needed.

The Liberals are promising that, if re-elected, their government will allocate $6 billion in funding over four years to reduce wait times, ensure access to family doctors, and implement a national pharmacare program, among other initiatives. The Liberals did not provide specific timelines.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau commits $6B to strengthen Canada’s public health care system

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau commits $6B to strengthen Canada’s public health care system
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau commits $6B to strengthen Canada’s public health care system

“We’ve seen similar sets of promises before,” Colleen Flood, director of the Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, told Global News.  

“The old approach of attempting to do it this way, where the Liberals just promise more dollars over time, does nothing to fundamentally change the dynamics of the system,” she said. 

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The Liberals have not released their full election platform for 2019, but a statement from the party’s 2015 platform mirrors Monday’s announcement: “We will make home care more available, prescription drugs more affordable, and mental health care more accessible.”

The party has faced criticisms for not having every new promise analyzed and costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as other parties have done.

READ MORE: Jagmeet Singh highlights NDP’s pledge for universal drug coverage

Flood would like to see more specific information from the party, and said if re-elected, the Liberals should provide more concrete strategies such as any financial incentives they would provide to provinces and territories that met minimum wait times.

“I don’t care how many dollars they’re going to just throw at something. The question is how are you going to actually do it,” she said. 

Without more detailed commitments, she worries that not much will change. And there is a lot at stake.

“People have lost faith and trust in the healthcare system,” Flood said. “The state of access to family doctors is very patchy and many people are without a regular family physician. And this certainly compromises the quality of their care and it’s simply unacceptable.”

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Trudeau was asked by a reporter at the announcement on Monday what he would say to concerns that the plan is not concrete.

“We know that there is always much more to do,” Trudeau said. “We are putting forward concrete investments that will lead Canadians to be able to find a family doctor that will remove that impossible choice between groceries and medications for so many Canadians and will provide mental health care for more Canadians right across the country in times of crisis.”

WATCH BELOW: Liberals pledge national pharmacare. Abigail Bimman reports.

Liberals pledge national pharmacare
Liberals pledge national pharmacare

Dr. Joel Lexchin, an emergency room physician in Toronto and professor emeritus at York University’s School of Health Policy and Management, echoed Flood’s sentiment there there are deep issues in the healthcare system that need to be addressed.

While access to acute care for people living in urban and suburban areas is pretty good, he said that the system lacks strong organizational oversight.

“The reason why people have long waits or can’t find general practitioners is not necessarily because we don’t have enough resources, it’s because the resources that we do have are poorly managed,” Lexchin said. “We cover hospitals and doctors, but everything else is a mixture of some provincial government funding, some private insurance, and some out of pocket.”

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READ MORE: NDP, Greens pledge to improve access to health care and surgeries for transgender people

He added that when it comes to wait times and access to primary care, the federal government can only do so much as most of the details and funding allocations are overseen by the provinces and territories.

“It’s hard to see that besides giving more money, what the [federal government] could actually do since healthcare is a function of the provinces,” Lexchin told Global News. “It’s misleading, at least, to make those promises without giving details about how they’re going to do it.”

Lexchin said he would encourage voters to demand further details on healthcare from all parties and candidates.

“These kinds of promises are very attractive to political parties because they have so few details and if you get elected you can claim that you’ve done everything that you’ve promise, which is effectively nothing,” he said. 

WATCH BELOW: Scheer promises $1.5B for new medical imaging equipment

Canada Election 2019: Scheer promises $1.5B for new medical imaging equipment
Canada Election 2019: Scheer promises $1.5B for new medical imaging equipment

For Dr. Sandy Buchman, a family physician and president of the Canadian Medical Association, the Liberal announcement is welcome, and he is pleased to see that federal party leaders are recognizing that health care is a top concern for voters. He has long been concerned that millions of Canadians are without a family doctor.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has promised to implement a universal pharmacare regime within one year if his party forms government. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has promised that his government would increase health and social transfer payments by at least three per cent every year, and has vowed to boost funding for medical equipment. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has promised to implement universal pharmacare and provide dental care for low-income Canadians.

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READ MORE: NDP’s Singh vows to cover dental care for families earning less than $70K

“All the governments could have done better in the past, but at least we’re now at a point where they’re recognizing this,” Buchman told Global News from New York, where he is attending the United Nations conference on universal health coverage.

“Constitutionally, the provinces do have responsibility for healthcare. But really, it’s a shared responsibility with the federal government, which can put conditions on provincial transfer payments and can direct specific funding with strings attached,” Buchman said.

“We have enough days in the campaign now to begin to challenge them all [the candidates] about how they are going plan to improve access.”
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