The road to Medicare was not always smooth

Published on Tuesday, 30 January 2024 09:01

By Ed Stozek
For the Herald

My parent’s income on their mixed farm stemmed from selling grain, eggs, cream, pork and poultry.

In an era long before universal health care, their medical expenses included fees for appointments to see a doctor or for a hospital stay.

At a time when dollars were hard to come by, I recall one visit for an appointment with Dr. Ed Hudson at the Hamiota Hospital. A ready to roast chicken and several dozen eggs were used as part of the payment for his services. At our next visit Dr. Hudson noted that he enjoyed the farm products.

It’s always interesting to peruse my father’s expense records. My mother had health issues resulting in some major medical expenses. In 1947 several trips were made to Shoal Lake to see a doctor. Along with paying Dr. Bardal for his services, other expenses included fees for x-rays and for prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy.

Since my parents didn’t own a car, they also paid a neighbour to drive them to their appointment. The following year precious income was spent for five medical related trips to Winnipeg.

My contribution to my parent’s medical expenses included $81.15 for Dr. Hudson’s “delivery” fees and for my mother’s hospital stay when I was born. Seven years later the costs associated with getting my tonsils and adenoids out added up to $36. I still recall the awful feeling when ether was administered prior to the operation. Following the procedure, a treat of ice-cream helped to alleviate some of the distress.

As leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party, Tommy Douglas led North America’s first socialist government and served as premier of Saskatchewan between 1944 and 1961. His government initiated the concept of the Hospital Services Plan, the first publicly-funded medical insurance system in Canada.

The road to universal health care began in 1961 when the Saskatchewan provincial government announced a plan to have visits to the doctor paid from taxes rather than having individuals pay out of pocket. Premier Douglas noted that people had a right to medical care whether or not they had the money to pay for it.

Most doctors opposed this idea stating that the government was turning them into civil servants and that it would interfere in their relationship with their patients.

Premier Douglas noted that the only thing that would change was the method of payment with doctors billing the government rather than the patients for the services that they provided.

Initially the doctors had support from the “Keep Our Doctors Out Committee” launching a well-organized campaign against the government with rallies, petitions and advertisements.

On July 1, 1962, most of the province’s doctors went on strike. Loud demonstrations and the potential for violence arose from the bitter division over the government’s proposal.

Families with health problems were very concerned. The government brought in doctors from Britain and encouraged others to come from the USA and other parts of Canada to combat the emergency. Local groups organized medical clinics and hired doctors to attend them. After 23 days the Saskatchewan doctors went back to work.

In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services delivered its report to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. The commission was established after Saskatchewan’s introduction of “the merits of single-player, universal medical insurance as compared with the alternative of the state providing targeted subsidies for the purchase of private insurance as championed by provincial governments in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario as well as organized medicine.” (Canada: Health System History)

In 1966, the federal government passed the Medical Care Act, with federal cost sharing transfers to begin in 1968 to those provinces that conformed to the four conditions of “universality, public administration, comprehensiveness and portability.” By 1971 all of the provinces including Manitoba implemented universal coverage.

Throughout my formative years some of the farm-related chores included herding and milking the cows, as well as feeding the poultry and gathering eggs from the chicken coop.

The cream cheques derived from milking the cows, as well as funds from selling eggs and poultry were put to use by my parents in an era when payment was required for medical care.

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