Alberta Politics

catching up on health care politics in alberta.

I sure picked an interesting time to leave the province for a few days. After a short absence, it has been exhausting catching up on all the political games and intrigue that happened over the weekend and earlier this week.

Leaked Private Health Care Agenda
The Liberals released an internal government document (pdf) showing a drive towards increased privatization of health care in Alberta through private insurance. The document was presented to the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health and also reported that the months-long province-wide consultation spearheaded by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne encountered a “high level of skepticism.” This skepticism was widely reported in the media and was not reflected in the committee’s final report released in September 2010.

Liberal leader David Swann

I was surprised to read Liberal leader David Swann‘s quote that this was the first time he had seen any evidence that the government was even considering a more private approach to health care, especially since he spoke at a rally in front of the now bankrupt private-for-profit Health Resource Centre only a few months ago (HRC sits across the street from his constituency office in Calgary-Mountain View). I am willing to believe that Dr. Swann may have been misquoted, but if not he should have a chat with his caucus colleague Kevin Taft, who co-authored the book “Clear Answers: The Economics and Politics of For-Profit Medicine” in 2000.

Earlier this year, former Premier Ralph Klein admitted that he had tried and failed to privatize Alberta’s health care system:

“I tried it twice — the Third Way and the Mazankowski report — and I failed.”
– Former Premier Ralph Klein (Source: “Klein urges two-tired health system,” Edmonton Journal, January 26, 2010)

Emergency Room wait-times amendment fails
Now Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman‘s amendment to enshrine emergency room wait times in Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act has failed. After a long debate that started last Wednesday, continued overnight until Thursday, and resumed this week Dr. Sherman, members of the three opposition parties, Independent MLA Dave Taylor, and St. Albert PC MLA Ken Allred voted in favor of the amendment (it failed). I understand the intention of Dr. Sherman’s motion and his good intentions in general, but I have to agree with the Tories that enshrining wait-times may create more problems than solutions (or more lawsuits).

After the amendment failed, the Alberta Health Act quickly passed third reading by the PC MLA majority in the Assembly. This new law concentrates a concerning amount of authority over our health care system into the hands of the Minister of Health & Wellness, instead of the elected Assembly.

In five years time we could be walking round a zoo…
Only a week after he was appointed as Acting-CEO of AHS, Dr. Chris Eagle and Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky released a 5-year plan for health care. If you are questioning how a newly appointed Acting-CEO could come up with a five-year plan so quickly, you win the prize. According to Gordon Bontje, one of four recently resigned members of the AHS Superboard, the “new” plan is really a re-marketed version of an old plan.

The plan sets out some goals for emergency room targets and continuing care spaces, but does not address some of the key capacity issues that are creating the problems in the health care system. With this government’s habit of constantly tinkering and re-announcing projects and plans, Albertans should not be blamed for being skeptical about politically convenient re-announcements and health care policy created on the fly.

Stand by your man…
Terri Jackson, wife of now former AHS President and CEO Stephen Duckett, has written a letter to the Edmonton Journal defending her husband and criticizing the government for how it has handled health care.

PC MLA Fred Horne

Was Fred Horne just being “Fred friendly”?
Rumours began to emerge late last week questioning Dr. Sherman’s mental health. The whispering began after MLA Mr. Horne placed a phone call to the head of the Alberta Medical Association, Dr. Patrick White, concerning the state of Dr. Sherman’s mental health. A self-described friend of Dr. Sherman’s, Mr. Horne held a media conference last Friday clarifying that he did make the call, but it was not to discredit the Doctor.

It might just be me, but am pretty sure that calling up the head of your friend’s professional association to question the state of his mental health and then talking to the media about it does not make you a good friend (especially when this friend is an MLA and medical doctor who has just been suspended from your party’s caucus for being highly critical of their health care policies).

December 4 Rally for Public Healthcare
In response to the months-long political frenzy around health care, the Friends of Medicare are organizing a rally at the Legislature on Saturday, December 4 at 1:00pm. Speakers include Dr. Sherman, United Nurses of Alberta President President Heather Smith, the Whitemud Citizens for Public Health‘s Elaine Fleming, and the Friends of Medicare’s David Eggen.

9 replies on “catching up on health care politics in alberta.”

It stills boggles the mind why people are so afraid of private health care. First of all it already exists in this country. Second, over 50,000 Canadians leave our country every year to purchase health care needs in other countries, surgeries, check ups, MRI’s, you name it. Lastly, why should I be able to take my cat to a clinic and if I don’t like how long I have to wait I go to another clinic. However if I take my daughter to a clinic I have no ability to expedite the process.

Something is wrong here. The fear of privatization should not take away from the reality that some services are better served through the private sector. We’re missing the boat on innovation due to ideologically based fears and it is a crying shame.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky on October 28, 2010: “This bill does not and is not purporting anything to do with privatization in any way at all.”

Really, Gene?

True – Roughly 30% of our (read: Canada’s) health care dollars are private, mostly involving stuff like dentistry, pharmaceuticals, optometry etc. Among the OECD, that’s pretty high. The UK, New Zealand and Sweden are all in the low 80% range when it comes to how much of the health system is public expenditures. Countries like France, Germany, and Austria are in the high 70s.

I contest your suggestion that increasing the involvement of the private sector will somehow fix our system. The countries like the UK and Sweden have the same health care system as ours (the Beveridge model), are less privatized, yet are more efficient (pay less per capita, better health outcomes). Germany and France with a slightly different health model (Bismark system) again have higher outcomes, lower costs. The US, with it’s private sector domination, paid in 2008 almost double what we did when it comes to per capita health costs. Why keep the system public? Because the government has limited funds, and its the best way to deliver quality care, without financial or geographic barriers, for lower costs.

To your statement that people are leaving Canada for treatment: Again, looking at the OECD, privatization isn’t correlated with more doctors or more bed space. In fact, some studies have shown (UK, NZ, Manitoba) that when resources are scarce (as they are here), wait times are lengthened as resources are split between the two systems.

Duncan: The United Nations ranks Canada as the 20th best Country for health care in the world. Who is #1? The Netherlands, and their system is 100% private. So again I ask why are we as Canadians so afraid to have a better health care system? Is being 20th satisfactory for ideological reasons?

Thanks for posting the full PDF, dave. Hadn’t seen it before. Having read it, I don’t think I’m going to be paying much attention to anything that anyone says about it. It’s non-controversial. Private insurance was addressed by the supreme court, and arguing for government control over how much time medical professionals spend in the public system but not necessarily requiring it to be 100% or 0%, is not exactly right-wing lunacy.

From the WHO:
Netherlands: Private expenditure on health as % of total expenditure on health(2007):18.0, down from 36.9% in 2000. If anything, The Netherlands has become more dominated by the public sector.

Oh, and the Netherlands spent $3,481 per capita on health in 2007, with their more public system. We spent $3,900 . The US spent $7,285 in the same year.

Hi Dave,
Welcome back to Alberta, always great to have you back in the greatest province in the country!

Just wanted to clear up your surprise with Dr. Swann’s quote. The quote on the CBC news story – “It’s the first time I have seen in print from this government any evidence that they are even considering this private approach to healthcare.”

Reading the “in print” part is fundamental for understanding the quote. Granted he should not have been so nuanced that his quotes could be taken out of context, but you can rest assured that he and Kevin Taft have had many “chats” about the subject.

Otherwise a great article and I hope to see you out supporting the Rally for Healthcare this Saturday!

Andrew: thanks for the response. It wasn’t an ideal quote to begin with, but that would explain it.
I’m glad to be back in God’s country.
See you on Saturday. Make sure to say hi!

Canadians spend 90% of the time boasting about how awesome their health care system is. The other half the time they spend running it down. (Go read your #8 on the Yanks if you don’t like my math).

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