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RTOERO response to 2021 federal budget

The following letter was sent in response to the 2021 Canadian federal budget, released on April 18, 2021. 

As a voice for healthy aging in retirement, RTOERO followed the April 18 federal budget with great interest. We represent 81,000+ members in districts across Canada, and are the largest national provider of non-profit group health benefits for education community retirees.

RTOERO wants to ensure that our members, and all seniors, can live their best life as they age. That’s why we were pleased to see how the budget will improve benefits via Old Age Security. The additional funding, over five years, promises to improve the financial security for about 3.3 million seniors. That is welcome.

We also applaud the intention to invest in affordable and accessible child care. It’s vital to create systems that support people in need – at any age. Which is why we call for increased action around three additional areas that are of prime importance to Canada’s seniors.

1.  National pharmacare

The 2019 Hoskin Report, initiated by the Liberal government, advocated a national pharmacare plan. This was completely absent from the budget.

Canada is the only developed country in the world that has universal health but lacks universal drug coverage. We consistently pay among the highest prices for prescription drugs. Ten per cent of citizens don’t have adequate coverage to meet their needs. One in four households can’t afford to fill their prescriptions.

Pharmacare is now fragmented across the provinces and territories. The solution demands a national initiative. We support a national health plan, and efforts to assist financially-strapped older adults – so they needn’t choose between purchasing the necessities of everyday life or their medical prescriptions.

2.  National seniors strategy

Also missing from the budget was a badly needed national seniors strategy. Seniors are Canada’s fastest growing demographic. Gaps in our healthcare and social policies are creating barriers — to seniors’ independence, and to their essential role in vibrant, healthy communities and economies.

Tackling these issues independently won’t give us the results we need. The issues are diverse (aside from pharmacare and OAS), and include: aging at home strategies; defined benefits pensions; action on social isolation; national standards covering health care for older adults; and combatting ageism and protecting the rights of seniors (like backing the UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons).

A coordinated national strategy, with dedicated funding and accountable goals, will ensure we meet the evolving needs of seniors.

3.  Geriatric health care

Today Canadians age 65 or older account for 17 per cent of the population. Statistics Canada predicts this will rise to 20 per cent — one-in-five Canadians — by 2024. This trend will increase as the younger Baby Boomers turn 65.

COVID-19 is a backdrop for any discussions about geriatric health care. The pandemic has been a huge test of Canada’s health care system overall. Sadly, the system disappointed despite the heroic efforts of many dedicated health care professionals. This cannot continue. Nor can fragmented, siloed or patchwork solutions. It’s time for a health care system overhaul, and for a fresh look at how it serves our older population.

Many seniors remain vulnerable, and long-term care is a textbook example. During COVID-19, the health care system has failed those residents. LTC homes have been understaffed, understocked, unprepared, under-protected and under-serviced. Their personnel have been underpaid and under-skilled. The death rates from COVID have been especially high in privately-owned institutions.

The conditions that have allowed this have been presented to governments over the past decades. If the same number of people who have died in LTC had died in daycare, the institutions would have shut down. The government responses would likely have been very different. Indifference or inaction is a reflection of ageism at its worst.

We call for a public inquiry into the LTC situation we’ve experienced with COVID-19. RTOERO also urges a transition to an entirely not-for-profit LTC home model; immediate steps to improve conditions and inspections in LTC homes; funding for more permanent staff in LTC; limiting staff to working in only one nursing home; and increasing wages, job security and benefits for staff (especially sick leave). Lastly, we support for a national plan for LTC homes, with national standards and processes for robust accountability.

In looking at these three broad issues, it is clear that the infrastructures that support Canadians as they age must be redesigned and re-engineered. This won’t happen overnight. Still, we can immediately put plans in motion to truly provide dignity and quality to the lives of older Canadians. The federal government cannot let them down.