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Defending public health care in court and in the streets

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Edith Machattie and Jen Kuhl of the B.C. Health Coalition. They talk with me about the coalition's work to defend and improve public health care, including their intervention in opposition to the legal challenge that could be the single gravest threat that the system currently faces.

There are lots of ways that are grounded in questions of justice to be critical about how health care happens in this country. These range from the most basic questions about how different populations are able to access health-care resources, to concerns about how power imbalances between professionals and patients shape decision-making about care, to critiques of pervasive medicalization of everyday life, to radical explorations of how both dominant and supposedly "alternative" medical practices and discourses are wound together with things like capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. Yet none of these provide any basis for thinking that things would improve by compromising the imperfect but still substantial equality of access in the Canadian single-payer model by allowing rich people to pay their way to better care than everyone else, thus making things increasingly like the horrendously unequal and terribly inefficient U.S. system.

In British Columbia, a lawsuit is looming that could do just that. After much manouvering, a number of years ago the B.C. government finally managed to conduct an audit on a private surgery clinic in Vancouver. In looking at just 30 days of its operation, they found that this clinic charged almost half a million dollars of fees to patients that they were not allowed to charge. In response, the clinic's owners and a number of similar clinics launched a constitutional challenge to B.C.'s medicare laws. If this suit is successful, it could do a great deal to undermine public medicare in Canada, and would create much greater legal space for two-tier, for-profit, privatized care in this country.

The B.C. Health Coalition brings together community and labour groups from across British Columbia. Machattie is an occupational therapist, a union representative on the coalition's steering committee, and its co-chair. Jen Kuhl is a staffer with the coalition. In the decade and a half of the coalition's existence, it has engaged in numerous different campaigns online and on the ground, mobilizing both the members of component organizations and the general public. The group is currently working hard to prepare its contribution to the proceedings that are scheduled to begin in the B.C. Supreme Court in September. Kuhl and Machattie speak with me about the work of the B.C. Health Coalition, the importance of public health care, the legal challenge that threatens it, and ways we can all work politically to defend and improve it.

To learn more about the work of the BC Health Coalition, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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