Advocating for Change

The Role of the Federal Government in Healthcare

Getting a sense of how our health care system works will make it easier for you to advocate for change when needed. This section provides information about the role of the federal government in the Canadian health care system. Canada’s federal government plays many health-related roles. They include:

  • setting national principles for health care under the Canada Health Act,
  • providing financial support to provinces/territories,
  • health protection and safety programs (food safety and nutrition, regulation of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, consumer products and pest management products),
  • funding for health research and health promotion,
  • disease prevention and surveillance,
  • public health programs
  • funding for health care for certain groups, including: serving members of the Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, eligible veterans, refugee protection claimants, inmates in federal penitentiaries, First Nations people living on reserves, and Inuit.

The federal government ensures that all health care in Canada follows the Canada Health Act. This set of principles guarantees that no matter where you live in Canada, you will receive medically necessary hospital and physician services. All provincial and territorial health care must follow the Canada Health Act.

Visit Health Canada for more information about Canada’s health care system.

The Role of Provincial and Territorial Governments in Healthcare

The federal government provides financial support to provinces and territories to help them deliver health care services. Canadian Provinces and territories must follow the Canada Health Act to receive federal funding in support of health care. The Canada Health Act lists five basic principles. Universal services must be:

  • available to all eligible residents of Canada,
  • comprehensive in coverage,
  • accessible without financial and other barriers,
  • portable within the country,
  • publicly administered.

The provinces and territories fund and administer most of Canada’s health care services. Each provincial/territorial health insurance plan covers medically necessary hospital and doctors’ services, without deductible amounts, co-payments or dollar limits. These services are paid for from their tax revenues with some funding assistance from the federal government.

Each province/territory decides how to spend its tax revenue and what health care services will be covered under its public insurance plan and for which groups. For that reason, services such as home care, therapy and prescription drugs (outside of hospitals) vary across Canada.

Source: Health Canada, Canada’s Health Care System, 2005

Visit Health Canada for more information about Canada’s health care system.

Identify Your Issue

Sometimes there are barriers to accessing the treatment you and your healthcare team decide is best for you. Within the “Advocating for Change” section, you’ll find information that will help you communicate with government to make your voice heard on issues of concern for people with arthritis. Your efforts can bring about real, lasting change that can benefit a lot of people. For more information, visit the Arthritis Society’s Self-Advocacy Toolkit.

Using the Advocacy Worksheet, write down the issue you are facing, and record the journey that has brought you here — the history of the steps you have taken so far and the healthcare professionals you’ve spoken to.

Clarify the Issue

The people who make decisions about treatment coverage are very busy. The key to reaching them is making sure that they can quickly identify why you’re contacting them and what you require. Distilling your story into issues that can be addressed is the foundation of your advocacy plan. Determine the most important parts of your story and concentrate on facts.

Our Framing Your Issues and Developing Your Messages Worksheet can help you with this process.

Do Your Research

Do background research and know the core facts about your issue. Research helps you decide what you want to change, how you will go about it, and who to approach. It can also help you establish that you are not the only one in this situation, which can bring urgency to the issue.

Using a variety of sources and perspectives helps your credibility and increases the likelihood of success.

For more information on researching an issue and advocating for your cause, see the Background Research section of the Self-Advocacy Toolkit. It lists:

  • possible sources of information,
  • types of information you might seek out, and
  • tips for researching your issue.

Establish a Goal

You’ve likely thought about potential solutions to your issue. It’s now time to develop your advocacy goal. What are you hoping to achieve? What is your “ask”? No matter what your goal is, it should be:

  • Specific: Ensure that you have a clear sense of what particular outcome you are seeking and how it can be accomplished
  • Achievable: Make sure your goal is possible to attain and that your audience is able to perform the action you need.
  • Measurable: You should be able to measure the impact of your goal – what will indicate if you have been successful?
  • Time-limited. Set a deadline for your goal to guide your planning.

Engage Your Audience

Who has the ability or influence to make the change you are seeking? Determining your audience is a key step in formulating your advocacy plan. Once you have clarified and researched your issue, you need to find the right person or people to approach.

If your issue is about what is covered by your provincial/territorial health insurance plan, the decision makers are your members of provincial/territorial parliament, beginning with your local elected official, and the Minister responsible for health. If you can get them to see why this change would be a good thing for both you and them, you will greatly increase your odds of success. Understanding the challenges your audience may face can also help you. Identify any reasons why they might be tempted to say no, and have your responses ready. Change takes time. There are different ways to engage with your audience such as sending a written letter/email, making a phone call, or meeting face-to-face. Be prepared to be patient, but take steps to make sure that your issue isn’t forgotten. Always follow up with a thank-you letter and remind them that you are waiting for a response.

To help determine who might be involved in decision-making about your issue, visit the Who’s Who and Who Does What Chart.

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This resource was made possible through unrestricted educational grants from:
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