#Healthcare4All – Why You(th) Need Public Healthcare

Author: Megan Ryland


It’s hard to notice a health care system that has always quietly had your back. Your parents pay taxes and premiums and you go to the clinic when you get a flu or break your wrist and you don’t stop to ask what that costs. You’re twelve and your wrist is broken, so you’re distracted.

I’m 23 and I just started paying for public health care, sending out cheques to the Medical Services Plan (MSP), and it has brought me in touch with an invisible system that I have been benefiting from since birth. Now I notice when I leave a clinic – which I have done three times so far this year – and no one asks me to pay a dime. It means that when I am sick and distracted and just want my penicillin prescription (or when there’s an emergency and I’m panicking), I still don’t have to think about what it costs–I’ve already done that part in advance by paying MSP.

If the court challenge to the public healthcare system is successful and the system gets chopped up into public and private, how will my life change? Well, maybe it won’t, in a lot of ways. I can’t pay for private clinics or private insurance on my own. I can’t afford to join the wealthy folks who could afford to pay to skip ahead of others who need care. I would still be lining up in the public system, waiting for my name to be called, unless I had an employer who was willing to foot the bill.

This is the case with many young adults who have flown the coop and left home. We are trying to make it post-school (high school, university, college) and we probably depended on our parents for things like medical coverage. Now, as we become more independent, that represents a new burden and a new system to navigate.

Universal public insurance coverage is a golden ticket to the kind of security I have often taken for granted – that if I am sick, I can get care – but if it’s not guaranteed, then no one has promised you anything. A two-tier system, like they have in the US, would mean expensive and inaccessible private health insurance for many people in Canada. For many of us, that kind of insurance would likely only be accessible through the kind of employment it is especially hard for youth to get. This means, there’s no guarantee at all.

Part-time, casual, seasonal or contract jobs often don’t provide health coverage, but those are often the positions that youth find themselves in–whether they want to be there or not. According to Statistics Canada, about 55% of 15-24 year old women and 39% of men* are employed part-time. Older age groups are about half those figures.

The economy isn’t doing youth any favours either. First, unemployment for those 15-24 in 2009 was 12-18%–essentially double what it was for other group. Add on the fact that, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, temporary employment (contract, seasonal, casual and agency jobs) make up a larger and larger percentage of available jobs and it looks like fewer youth are finding full-time, permanent employment. Between 2009-2013, 40% of new jobs created in BC were temporary and youth are among the group especially affected by this. According to Statistics Canada, 28% of 15-24 year olds with a job are working in temporary positions.

It makes sense, we are typically the group juggling work and school, so we end up with temporary summer jobs or casual positions as we work through school. Once we’re out of school, youth are the people with the least work experience and smallest networks trying to find entry-level positions that offer enough money to live on. Finding work that covers your health insurance? That’s a whole different challenge altogether. (Heck, with all these unpaid (illegal) internships for youth, getting paid for work at all seems to be a challenge.)

So, if this legal challenge were to succeed and we were to enter a world where private insurance is required for even basic healthcare services, all these employment figures become very, very important. Suddenly, your job doesn’t just mean the difference between making rent or not. Your job (specifically, its benefits) means the difference between what kind of basic health care you receive. Think your part-time, hourly paid gig is going to get you into private clinics that ask for double or quadruple the price of the public healthcare system? …None of my mine would have, I can tell you that much.

When I hear private healthcare, I remember what I get to forget about when I visit my public health care provider: if I want to be well, I have to be paid well. Unfortunately, for most youth in this economy, that’s not the reality. Defending our healthcare system, defending our right to get equal access to our doctors no matter what’s in our piggy bank, is about defending our right to grow up healthy.



*Statistics Canada reports this data in gender binary categories. Employment figures for trans youth are difficult to find, but trans people of all ages face systemic barriers to employment and appropriate health care access, which should be acknowledged here.