An Open Letter to Commissioner Roy Romanow

Winter 2001 CSANews Issue 41  |  Posted date : Apr 03, 2007.Back to list

On April 4, 2001, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Health Minister Allan Rock announced the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Within 20 minutes of the announcement, the CSA made initial contact with the Commission's office in order to secure standing. Six months later, we received word from Mr. Roy Romanow stating that he "must respectfully decline [our] offer to meet face to face."

Mr. Romanow, since you won't meet with us in person, here's just some of what we have to say:

Dear Mr. Romanow,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Canadians who spend part or all of their winters outside of Canada. We are a unique group of individuals, from all ages, backgrounds and interests and come from every community in Canada...from the far north of British Columbia to southern Ontario and to the Newfoundland shores. We represent every walk of life; farmers, business people, factory workers, educators and health professionals. Our common denominator is that we have saved diligently and dreamed of the time when we would be able to travel south to escape from the winter storms and cold ­ if only for a few weeks.

We love Canada. We have lived here all, or most, of our lives and plan on spending the rest of our lives as true Canadians. Our families and homes are here. Many of us still live in the same home town in which we were born and we remain active in our communities. We pay our local and school taxes as we always have. We also pay income tax every year, at the same level as every other Canadian.

However, we believe that the freedom to travel is vital to our well-being. Those still working need to be free to leave for an extended trip if they wish, either in Canada or out, without penalty. Retired Canadians should be free to spend several months away from home without worrying about losing their health coverage.

Last winter, one of my friends slipped on an icy sidewalk and broke her hip. She was in the hospital for quite some time and then had to have special care and therapy for months. Almost every senior with whom I speak has at least a limited form of osteoporosis. It is so easy for a bone to break. If my friend had been able to go to Florida where she had usually travelled, she would not have had to worry about ice, and she would have saved our Ontario health system a lot of money! However, with a husband over 80 and a low Canadian dollar, they could not afford travel insurance and dared not leave without it.

Let's be positive and look at some of the reasons people should be free to travel for extended periods. Mr. Romanow, surely you will agree that maintaining good mental and physical health should be a top priority for all Canadians. Positive, healthy thinking helps to keep the mind active and interested. An active mind aids in physical well-being. Seniors join in bridge games, bingo parties and local clubs where they meet and talk with friends. Others prefer a life full of indoor activities, such as dancing or low-impact exercising. The social life that evolves is a day-to-day affair and, for many, it's a lifeline.

It is easy to get to these activities in good weather, but the risks involved with travelling in inclement weather often result in these people being forced to stay at home. Those who live alone may not interact with others for days at a time. In short, through no fault of their own, they are forced into a sedentary lifestyle from which there is no physical escape. If they were in a climate without snow, ice and freezing cold, their activities could continue without interruption.

When people can get outdoors, they are likely to be active. When I was younger during the winters in Canada, I used to cross-country ski. But my last trip on a cold crisp day left me feeling half-frozen and, I must admit, full of aches and pains from the cold weather. I had to give up a favourite sport.

Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow (left) and Health Minister Allan Rock watch as Prime Minister Jean Chretien addresses a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday April 4, 2001. Chretien announced that Romanow will head an inquiry to look into the country's medicare system.(CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand)Mr. Romanow, fresh air is essential for good living ­ for people of all ages. The health professionals tell us that fresh air and physical activity are important to keeping people healthy. Even a walk in the sunshine or a swim in the pool will make a big difference.

I winter in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, and shuffleboard is a major activity in our park, enjoyed several times a week in the sunshine and fresh air. The golf courses are so busy during the winter that it often becomes difficult to get a tee time. Many people plan golfing holidays; they travel from one area to another. Talk to golfers and they will tell you about marvellous courses from California to Arizona, Texas to Florida. Golf is a non-strenuous exercise that provides friends, interest and a sense of well-being to all players (and sometimes frustration as well!). Ask the former president of the CSA, Don Slinger, about lawn­bowling or ask our President Bob Jackson about boating. In the summer, Mr. Jackson enjoys the Bay of Fundy and in the winter, the lakes and waterways of Florida. My husband Bruce likes surf fishing. He doesn't worry so much about what he catches as the enjoyment of the fresh ocean breezes, the pounding surf and the thrill of the tugging line (of course, fresh fish is good for us too!).

If our country were warm enough to offer these activities in the winter, most Canadians would opt for a Canadian holiday. Although Canadians are hardy souls who have adapted and can enjoy a cold climate, for many with arthritis, asthma and other physical problems, they can live longer, healthier lives by going South and keeping busy, free from discomfort, injury and illness.

Travelling Canadians are not asking for special favours from their provinces. The Portability Principle - Section 11(1)(b)(ii) of the Canada Health Act is quite explicit in its direction that the provinces must pay for out-of-country emergency medical services at the same rate as they would for in-province care. If you talk to our snowbirds and Canadian winter travellers, Mr. Romanow, you will find that they are willing to pay for supplementary emergency medical coverage for higher bills, but believe that they deserve the coverage that was promised within the act.

As it is, we, the winter travellers and snowbirds, actually aid our provinces and their health-care systems. We are healthier and likely accident-free and, if we do take ill or are injured, we have supplementary insurance which covers most of our costs away from home. We are not a burden on the Canadian system.

One of our biggest areas of concern, Mr. Romanow, is the fact that even when we own or rent homes and pay our taxes, the majority of snowbirds cannot travel across Canada for several months of the year without fear of losing their provincial health insurance. Families no longer all live in the same community or province. Quite often, children are scattered across the country. Old friends move away. Why should we risk being penalized, or feel guilty and go, all the while hoping we will not be caught?

Please help all Canadians in their quest to travel back and forth across this beautiful country. Some provinces are now aware of the restrictive nature of these residency requirements and have made changes, but most are still limiting out-of-province travel time.

Lastly, a point that has had serious repercussions for many long-term travellers. This is the rule that prevents them from taking an adequate supply of prescription drugs with them ­ equal to the length of their out-of-country stay. Many have to pay extra or have their drugs mailed to them. Have you ever tried to send prescription drugs across the border, Mr. Romanow? You might be lucky, but I can tell you of cases in which they are confiscated, lost, or sent back. Most prescriptions must be continual from day to day ­ an unscheduled break could result in serious medical repercussions. The Ontario and Manitoba governments listened to the concerns of the Canadian Snowbird Association and now allow prescriptions for the length of stay (up to 200 days). This is a simple thing to ask. It is not an abuse of drugs. Why will some provinces not agree?

We are proud to be Canadians. We have all done our share to make Canada the great country it is. Many of our older members, my husband included, are veterans who put their lives on the line to defend our country. We love our country and are willing to share in her good times and bad. Please listen to what we have to say and give us the opportunities we deserve.

We know that you are concerned about our health-care system, Mr Romanow, and that you are travelling across Canada, listening to the plights of Canadians. We agree that many of these concerns should be addressed, and would like to add our issues to them. Our concerns are painfully real and our provinces need to stand up and take notice.

If you have something to say to Mr. Romanow, he can be reached at:
  • Commission of the Future of Health Care Canada
      P.O. Box 160, Station Main
      Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
      S7K 3K5
  • 1-800-793-6161