Medicare: A People's Issue
The first region in Canada to combine public health with medical care, the Swift Current Health Region or Health Region #1, would play a key role in the development of Medicare in Saskatchewan.
The practices, experience and innovations developed there from the mid-1940s through the 1950s formed the basis of the provincial medicare legislation of 1961. This was a complete program of medical and hospital services. Payment to physicians was made on a fee-for-service basis.
Patients could choose the doctor they wanted and the system was administered by an independent nonpolitical committee. Beginning operation in July of 1946, the initiative for its formation came from the local level and was ratified by the voters of the region. In the subsequent years other innovations followed such as a comprehensive children’s dental program and the formation of the first Regional Hospital Council.
Why did it begin in Swift Current? A number of factors coalesced to make it the ideal area for medicare reform and experimentation. The 1944 election of the CCF government under the leadership of T.C. Douglas, created an environment where medicare reform was supported at the provincial level.
One of their major platforms was the implementation of a socialized medicine plan. In addition, the area had been hit hard by the drought and economic depression in the 1930s. This had led to a community heavily reliant on the municipal doctor system for the delivery of its medical care. When calls for a new hospital arose, the community looked to a cooperative solution.
Though the system was popular in the Swift Current area, it was met with trepidation elsewhere. A similar plan was easily defeated in 1955 when put to a vote in the Regina Rural and Assiniboia-Gravelbourg areas. The most vocal opponent was the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons. The lines between the government and college were becoming deeper as time progressed. The confrontation would come to a head in the Doctors Strike of July 1962.