Monday, August 1, 2011

The Roots of North America’s First Comprehensive Public Health Insurance System

By Aleck Ostry
Linköping University Electronic Press

"Although less than eight per cent of Canadians lived in Saskatchewan in the 1940s, this province has played a large role in the development of national social policy.2 Western Canada, particularly Saskatchewan and Manitoba, was the crucible of the nation's Social Democratic movement which was based largely on the strong tradition of co-operative prairie wheat farming and marketing. Canada's first Social Democratic party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner of the New Democratic Party, was born during the Great Depression in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The party came to power in the Saskatchewan provincial elections of 1944, becoming the first Social Democratic party elected in North America.

The party remained in power until 1964. During this 20-year period the CCF crafted North America's first comprehensive public health insurance scheme. Province-wide public hospital insurance was started early in the CCF's mandate in 1946 and, after an acrimonious doctors’ strike in 1962, followed by public insurance for physician remuneration (Medicare) in 1962. The federal government, under the leadership of the Liberal Party, followed Saskatchewan's lead, and adopted a public scheme for hospital insurance in 1957 and Medicare in 1968. Saskatchewan, from 1944 to 1964, pioneered the development of Canada's national public health insurance plan."

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