Friends of Medicare Submission on the Alberta Health Act

aha-repealing-albertas-public-medicare-lawsFriends of Medicare has a difficult time trying to understand what is the rationale for proposing this Alberta Health Act legislation. The document “A Foundation for Alberta’s Health System” does not provide an explanation as to why over-arching legislation is required. Furthermore, the language of this Foundation document is similar in scope and tone to the 2002 Mazankowski report and the government’s 2005 “Third Way” initiative, both of which were designed to expand private health care in the province.

We very strongly believe that this legislation should be changed only if it is a serious attempt to strengthen the public health system and to redouble restrictions on for-profit delivery. Otherwise, there is little to be gained that could not be accomplished with current legislation working in concert with the Canada Health Act.

  1. Increase accountability for Quality. This is an important goal. Friends of Medicare recommends that this should be addressed through an expanded role of the health quality council.
  2. Patient centered health. Again, a very good concept, as long as it is pursued in a sincere manner. For example, the government must hold its policy of private health delivery up to the light and make an honest determination as to whether private health is the best choice for the patient.
  3. Patient Charter. This label is misleading, since by all indications the government has no intention of introducing an actual charter. What the government is more likely to introduce is broad language about the right to timely access to medical services, along with a list of personal responsibilities Albertans should undertake to improve their health. It is our view that this “patient charter” should not proceed as outlined in the survey. At the very least the responsibilities section should be removed, and the timeliness section should be constrained to acknowledge the limitations of the health system. This “Charter” should not be used a vehicle to expand private health care. The concept has a very poor record in other jurisdictions, and flies in face of the “no-fault” single payer system that lies at the heart of public health system.
  4. It is clear the intention of the Alberta Health Act is to merge a number of Acts and to standardize definitions. We are very concerned that this new act will go after legislation that protects Albertans from expanded private insurance, private delivery, and two tier, private health care. It is simplistic and misleading to assert that current legislation is “obsolete and inefficient” when it fact it protects Albertans from expensive and unnecessary two tier private health care.
  5. Expansion of for-profit delivery. We suspect this aspect of the report is driving force behind the Alberta Health Act. Investor owned health companies are applying pressure to expand private contracts to deliver all aspects of health care system . We assert mostly strongly that these private contracts result in higher costs, lower quality health outcomes, and adverse conditions for staff. They also hand over resources, buildings and decision making over to a private provider, and make it much more difficult to audit how public funds are being spent.

The government’s health policy has caused chaos and confusion for the past two years. What is emerging is a vision of greatly expanded private for profit health care. It is clear that the Alberta health act is a way to move our public health care system into being a publicly funded health system, with a universe of private contracts actually delivering the services.

The model that should be used to bring this legislation forward is a full discussion paper that outlines the legislation and what are the government’s intentions surrounding the proposal. Most Albertans are simply confused and suspicious of the government’s intentions concerning this legislation, so it is important to lay out a clear, concise process that allows proper debate. The very idea that the government would “consult” for three of four months on a bill that has neither form nor shape is a deeply cynical and confused exercise. We would suggest that the committee delivers its report, the government develops draft legislation, and the public is given its due with a white paper outlining the intentions of the government, with the legislation to move forward (or not) in 2011,
David Eggen, Executive Director
Friends of Medicare

A number of other organizations have also submitted recommendations on the Alberta Health Act:

- United Nurses of Alberta
- Health Sciences Association of Alberta

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