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A Canadian Medical Association poll found 80 per cent of respondents concerned that quality of health care will decline because of strain on the system. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

Canadians are concerned their quality of health care will decline from the strain posed by aging baby boomers, a new poll suggests.

The Canadian Medical Association carried out the poll as part of its annual report card focused on access to health-care services.

Canadians themselves are now saying they're concerned about future health-care costs, said CMA president Dr. Anne Doig.

"Its no longer the medical profession saying there's a problem and others saying no there isn't," Doig added.

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The group believes that unless the health-care system is significantly transformed that it won't be able to meet the needs of future generations.

But health economists who've studied the issue say there will not be massive increases in cost, said Dr. Danielle Martin, chair of the group Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

"The aging of the population occurs slowly, it doesn't occur overnight and the rate at which it occurs allows the economy to gradually absorb any increase in costs," Martin said.

Boomer strain

About 80 per cent of those polled said they were concerned the quality of health care will decline from the strain on the system posed by the baby boomer generation.

Almost as many, 79 per cent, worried the health-care system will not be able to offer the same level of coverage as the baby boomers reach retirement age.

Financial burdens were also a worry:

  • 76 per cent of those polled said they were concerned they will have to pay more taxes so the health-care system can provide services to the baby boom generation.
  • 73 per cent feared they will not have enough money to maintain their health as they age, compared with 69 per cent who said their top concern was not being able to afford retirement.
  • 85 per cent agreed the rising challenges brought on by the  aging baby boomer generation mean federal, provincial and territorial governments need to get on with negotiating a new health-care funding agreement.

Canadians under age 46 were more likely than baby boomers to say they were preparing for higher health-care costs, such as by buying long-term health insurance or dipping into planned retirement savings to help pay for their own future health-care costs.

"I would worry that the people handling  the health-care money aren't going to handle it properly and there won't be enough," said Patrick Skene, a 35-year-old from Winnipeg. "I foresee our health-care system kind of collapsing in the future."

Both respondents and many doctors agree part of the increasing demand on the health-care system comes from Canadians not taking responsibility for their own health.

"Well, I think there's a responsibility to themselves and to the families certainly," said Winnipeg resident Al Wexler, 75, who visits the gym regularly. "It's worth doing and it's fun actually," he said of the exercise. 

Call for patient charter

The release of the report card coincides with CMA's annual meeting, which takes place in Niagara Falls, Ont., through Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the CMA released its report, "Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works, Care that Lasts," to spark discussion on funding, staffing and accountability among health-care professionals, politicians and the public.

The report called for the creation of a charter for patient-centred care.

At the CMA's annual meeting on Monday, patient advocate Durhane Wong-Reiger said patients want to work with doctors to improve the health-care system.

Canadians may feel their individual care is patient-centred, but the charter is a way to hold the health-care system accountable, said Wong-Reiger, who advocated on behalf of patients who were infected with HIV or hepatitis C during the tainted blood scandal in the late 1980s.

The report also sets out timelines for areas such as pharmacare, long-term care and accountability in time for the negotiation of the next federal, provincial and territorial health accord in March 2014.

Ipsos Reid conducted the survey of 3,483 Canadian adults online between June 8 and June 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.66 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With files from The Canadian Press