After taking over as president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Wednesday, Dr. John Haggie, a central Newfoundland surgeon, told reporters an advisory panel report on resourcing options for sustainable health care, discussed this week at the CMA’s annual meeting in St. John’s, was simply a document for discussion.
The panel’s first recommendation sparked some concerns among CMA delegates and the public because it recommended the CMA be “open to discussing a range of ways of funding services” with the goal of improving access.
“While there is no unanimity on the best ways to fund a national health care system, such mechanisms as user fees, franchises and various insurance schemes are widely used elsewhere by governments across the political spectrum,” the report states.
Delegates were polled Wednesday on whether the CMA should consider this issue high priority. They were told to pick a number from one to six. No. 1 would be high priority, No. 5, not enough information and No. 6, not important.
Sixty-two per cent of the delegates picked No. 1, but there were some concerns expressed that the public might have the impression from news reports this week that the CMA favours privatization.
Dr. Jeff Turnbull, outgoing CMA president, stressed this is not CMA policy, only an advisory panel recommendation.
“As has been for decades, the CMA is a staunch proponent of the Canada Health Act,” he told reporters, and, more specifically, he said the CMA believes “Canadian should not have to pay out of pocket for necessary medical care.”
A delegate, speaking from the floor, said the news stories this week on the report have generated public discussion on the issue, which is a good thing.
Haggie told reporters it’s a challenge discussing this topic because people “do tend to retreat very rapidly to positions when they hear certain phrases.”
Reiterating the point made by Turnbull, Haggie said this is a document for discussion, a “sounding board and the working group was interested in what our delegates thought of it. It wasn’t policy, it wasn’t motions, it was for reflection and discussion.”
Haggie spoke in his inaugural address about other challenges he’ll facing in the coming year, including leading the CMA in discussions about the renegotiation of the national health accord. The last accord agreed to in 2004 will come to an end in 2014.
Haggie said that accord was meant to secure change for a generation, but it failed to do more than fix funding for a decade.
“The opportunity to renegotiate this agreement cries out for a first ministers’ conference at which the alliances we have built can present their vision for the future of medicare,” Haggie said, adding that this vision lays out a system in which Canadians will have equitable access to health care based on clinical need.
He said standing on the podium Wednesday, assuming the presidency of the CMA, marked a culmination of a journey he began over half a century ago on another continent.
Haggie grew up in Manchester, England, where he said he was apprenticed in a two-tiered system. In the early 1990s, he moved to Newfoundland to work on the Northern Peninsula. He later became a surgeon and continues to practice today in central Newfoundland.
Haggie was president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association from 2002 to 2003.
“As challenging as it has been, rural medicine has introduced me to the beauty of this country and, in particular, this province. I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I am so proud to be an adopted son of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Haggie said.
“As a surgeon steeped in traditions of tact and collaboration, I promise I will speak truth to power, but I will try to be diplomatic, too,” he told the CMA delegates. “It’s a challenge I relish and I hope by the time we meet again assembled in Yellowknife, I will have done you proud.”