I was sick and you took care of me – Matthew 25:36
By Rev. Taylor Croissant
Pensions and policing are among the top issues of the 2023 Alberta provincial election, but Medicare may end up as the defining issue. The United Church of Canada was a vocal advocate for the initial adoption of Medicare, though it was a divisive issue at the time of its introduction. Medicare emerged in response to two separate crises: polio and the Great Depression.
It is common for many Canadians to mistake what Medicare actually is. We do not receive ‘free health care.’ Our taxes pay for universal medical insurance. Health care is delivered by physicians, typically running private clinics, and they bill that universal medical insurance for the cost of the services. Provincial governments and physicians negotiate the fees that Medicare is charged for services.
Not all medical needs are covered by Medicare’s universal insurance, and some are only partially covered. Some examples are dental care, mental health, vision and hearing care, and physiotherapy. With infinite resources, all of these needs could be fully met with our universal medical insurance; however, we live in a world of finite resources. In order to keep costs manageable some services are determined to need additional private funding.
Today, the strain on medical resources is being felt across the English-speaking world. Access to timely health care is not just an Albertan issue or even a Canadian issue. There are not enough physicians, nurses, or hospitals to accommodate the needs our society faces as the Boomer generation continues to age. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the fragility of our entire healthcare system.
Due to the backlog in surgical wait times, more and more Albertans are opting to pay privately by going abroad to jump to the front of the line for medical services. This growing trend threatens to undermine the values of Medicare which The United Church of Canada advocated for 70 years ago.
To put it bluntly, access to universal medical insurance and the timely delivery of health services determines who lives and who dies prematurely in our society. The United Church of Canada can very much be described as a comfortably middle-class church, many of those who sit in our pews would have the financial means to pay for private medical care if the need became great enough. As a church and as a society, do we still believe in the value of universality for Medicare? Should the timely delivery of health care be determined by need, or by personal finances?
In order for Medicare to accommodate the growing need of providing universal health care to Albertans, more resources will be required. However, as mentioned, we do not live in a world of infinite resources. Where will we find the balance in addressing this issue?
As Christians, we are instructed by Jesus to look beyond our own needs and to support those around us who are most in need. What does Christ call us to do to ensure that those whose health has made them among the most vulnerable in our society are assured of dignity and timely medical care?
Rev. Taylor Croissant is minister at Southminster United Church, Lethbridge and a member of the Chinook Winds Region’s Executive.
You are welcome to print copies of The Christian Case for Medicare. A PDF version is available to download.