Interdepartmental Committee on Medicare, 1959

On April 27, 1959, two days after announcing his government's intention to introduce universal medicare in a by-election speech, Premier T.C. Douglas and his Cabinet established the Interdepartmental Committee to Study a Medical Care Program. This committee of officials - some of the most brilliant civil servants of the era - would produce a blueprint for the Saskatchewan program that later became the national model for medicare. In addition to the chair, deputy minister of health Dr. Burns Roth, the committee included deputy provincial treasurer A.W. Johnson, Cabinet's chief policy guru Thomas Shoyama, and municipal policy experts Meyer Brownstone and William Harding. In addition to reviewing the current state of health services in the province and providing detailed recommendations on the administration and financing of medicare, the committee provided advice on the formation and structure of the more public Thompson Committee on medicare.

The Interdepartmental Committee on Medicare submitted its report to the Douglas Cabinet on November 20, 1959. It recommended that a comprehensive system of universal medical care coverage be introduced in two stages. In the first and immediate stage, medicare would include a broad range of prevention services as well as a full range of outpatient physician and diagnostic services. It was hoped that home care services could be put on a “hospital-centred” basis and cost-shared with the federal government under the recently negotiated system of national hospitalization. The Committee recommended extending coverage to prescription drugs, and optical, dental and chiropody services at a later stage, only after the government had sufficient administrative expertise and the comprehensive information required for effective cost control. Finally, the Committee recommended a combination of general tax revenues with a premium (equal in value to the hospitalization premium) to finance medicare - a system that remained in place until premiums were removed on January 1, 1974.

G.P. Marchildon

Further Reading

Johnson, A.W. 2004. Dream No Little Dreams: A Biography of the Douglas Government of Saskatchewan, 1944-1961. Toronto: University of Toronto Press/IPAC.