Government Relations Report

Fall 2010 CSANews Issue 76  |  Posted date : Sep 17, 2010.Back to list

Summer can often be a challenging time at which to have snowbird issues debated in our national media and by the members of our legislative assemblies. While sitting down to prepare this column, something in the national paper caught my eye which highlighted an issue near and dear to many of our members. In early August, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released a paper entitled "Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change That Works, Care That Lasts." As many of you are aware, the CMA is the national voice of the majority of Canada's physicians. While it may not speak for all of them, it's a voluntary organization with more than 72,000 members from coast to coast. 

The paper's aim is to "improve the health of the population at large, to improve the health-care experiences of patients, and to improve the value for money spent on health and health care." At first glance, it appears to be pretty uncontroversial stuff; I mean, who could argue with any of that, right? Well, even discussions about changes to health care, particularly in Canada, are often filled with high emotions and a fair bit of political posturing on all sides.

The Canada Health Act requires that provincial/territorial health insurance plans must insure all medically necessary hospital and physician services. However, since the inception of Medicare, the report points out that care patterns have shifted dramatically - away from being primarily acute care in nature to broader health needs, including prevention, treatments and medications that were not foreseen by the original founders of our Medicare system. 

When the Canada Health Act was originally passed, physician and hospital services represented approximately 57% of total health spending. This number has now declined to 41%. The report acknowledges that there is still significant public spending on services covered beyond the act for programs such as seniors' drug coverage but, as these services are not subject to the act's program criteria, they are often the targets of arbitrary cutbacks. 

Yes, most jurisdictions in Canada do provide some form of seniors' drug coverage but, as our members know only too well, there is a patchwork of rules across the country. These rules tend to specify differing limits on the supply of prescription medication that provincial and territorial drug programs will cover. Some provinces will cover a full six-month supply (matching the amount of continuous out-of-country travel time which residents are permitted), while others limit this supply to as few as 30 days. 

As far as the CMA is concerned, the goal is comprehensive drug coverage for the entire population. It is estimated that less than one-half of prescription drug costs were publicly paid for in 2008. As our recently released third edition of The Canadian Travellers' Report Card points out, the Canadian Snowbird Association also believes that the federal government should enact some form of national pharmacare program covering all drugs, not just catastrophic expenses. The federal government is the protector of national standards in health care and a funding partner in providing access to drugs for many Canadians. As such, it has an important role to play in ensuring that Canadians who need government-supported drug benefits continue to have access to the drugs which they require, both at home and when they exercise their right to travel. This is an important issue and it's encouraging to have an ally like the CMA with us in this ongoing fight.

There has been a great deal of talk about the controversial Arizona immigration bill known as SB (Senate Bill) 1070. The law essentially says that if officers stop, detain or arrest someone while enforcing other laws and reasonably suspect that person to be in the country illegally, they have to try and determine their immigration status if it is "practicable." 

In other words, police don't have to determine someone's legal status if there's a shootout going on. They also get a pass if inquiring would hinder an investigation - by scaring off witnesses, for example. Now, it's important to keep in mind that ALL United States law enforcement officers already have the ability to check on the immigration status of those whom they stop or arrest, so there's not much that is new here. 

The provision that has received the most attention is the creation of a new state crime... the failure to produce proper immigration documents. It's a misdemeanour modelled on a rarely enforced 1940 federal statute. But SB 1070 also says that anyone in the country legally cannot be convicted of this crime. Still, from a practical perspective, it might be a concern if a Canadian snowbird didn't have his passport on his person while being suspected of committing a separate crime or violating an ordinance.

Even if you did have your passport, there's a good chance that it might not prove your legal status as it may not have been stamped by U.S. immigration officials (proving your legal entry date). At any rate, a federal judge has now blocked these two contentious provisions and they have absolutely no effect in law. In other words, nothing has changed and there is no new state law requiring you to carry your immigration documents or your passport although, frankly, it's probably a good idea to do so anyway. 

We have written to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer asking her to clarify how legal Canadian snowbirds would be able to comply with this new law and I look forward to sharing her response with you. This looks like it's ultimately headed to the Supreme Court but, in the meantime, nothing has changed. Whether you support Bill SB 1070 or are opposed to it (and there are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle), it really doesn't look as if this going to be an issue for Canadian snowbirds heading to Arizona this winter.