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The History of Medicare in Canada

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This page provides information about the history of medicare in Canada.

Laying the Foundation:
The history of Medicare in Canada dates back to the early twentieth century, with the first rise of public demand for government participation in creating a nationwide health insurance system.

Health InsuranceThe Great Depression saw a growth in calls for a public health care system. Unfortunately, governments just did not have the money to bring this idea to fruition. The United Farmers of Alberta were able to pass a bill in 1935 which would have created a provincial health insurance plan, but were later denied office. The Social Credit Party then tossed out the proposal due to financial shortcomings in the province. British Columbia was the next province to initiate and pass a health insurance bill in the following year, but once again, implementation came to a halt, this time as doctors objected to the plan. A promise was in place by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to usher in a national program. However, although he produced the Canadian Department of Health, he failed to instill a public health care system in the country.

1947- 1965 Early Introduction
This chapter in the history of Medicare in Canada introduces the system still in its early stages of development. The year was 1946 when Saskatchewan became the first province to introduce an almost universal health insurance plan, guaranteeing full hospitalization coverage to every resident, paid for by the government. This new system, called the ‘Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act’ was passed by then-Premier Tommy Douglas. Full-range health care coverage was Douglas’ goal, but provincial funding for such a venture was not viable at the time.

A Gallup poll survey was conducted in 1949, asking all Canadians how they would vote on a government-funded health care system, which they would contribute to financially. While 16 percent dismissed it, 80 percent approved the proposal. With the 1946-1947 post-war baby boom, along with the significant boost in immigration of the 1950’s, federal and provincial governments had to deal with important issues, stemming from an exploding population growth in Canada.

But the history of Medicare in Canada carries on, and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, in the years 1949 and 1950 respectively, became the next to embrace the template set by the ‘Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act’ by setting in motion, albeit limited, provincial hospital insurance plans. In 1957, the Liberal government passed the ‘Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act’ (HIDS), a system which would finance 50 percent of provincial and territorial hospital care expenses. By 1961, every province had corresponding HIDS Act programs put into place. The very first public health care program for physician services, born in 1962, was credited to the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Saskatchewan.

In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services issued a recommendation for a health care program on the national level. British Columbia followed Saskatchewan’s lead in 1965, by creating its own provincial medical plan.

The “Medical Care Act”
In 1966, Medicare in Canada reached its pinnacle when Federal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson finally introduced the Medical Care Act (or “Medicare”) to the country, which broadened the HIDS Act expense-sharing, allowing each province and territory to initiate a universal public health care plan. The ‘Canada Health Act’ bill was passed in 1984, prohibiting any user fees and additional billing by physicians. In 1999, the Canadian Prime Minister, as well as the majority of premiers reasserted through the Social Union Framework Agreement, made a commitment to health care with portability, accessibility, comprehensiveness, public administration and universal coverage.