Following Friends of Medicare's presentation to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills on Bill 203: An Act to Protect Public Health Care, the committee — comprised of 4 NDP and 7 UCP MLAs — voted to keep the bill out of full debate in the legislature. The bill would have protected our public health care system by prohibiting two-tier medicine, extra billing and any other form of private payment in relation to insured services, and would have banned queue jumping via cash payments.
We need this kind of legislated safeguard to ensure that we all have access to health care based on need and not ability to pay, but instead, members have voted to halt this bill at the committee stage. They were able to quash this bill before it ever reached the house because of a Standing Order implemented by the UCP government on May 30th, 2019. This Standing Order established the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills, and dictated that all non-UCP bills will pass through the committee for recommendation as to whether it will return to Assembly for a second reading.
Referral of public Bill other than Government Bill after first reading
74.11(1) After a public Bill other than a Government Bill has been read a first time, the Bill stands referred to the Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills Committee.
(2) The Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills Committee shall report back to the Assembly within 8 sitting days of the day on which the Bill was referred to the
Proceedings on Bills referred to a committee after first reading
74.2(1) When a Bill is referred to a standing or special committee after first reading, the committee may conduct public hearings on the subject matter of the Bill and report its observations, opinions and recommendations with respect to the Bill to the Assembly.
(2) Upon the concurrence of a committee report that a Bill be proceeded with, the Bill shall be placed on the Order Paper for second reading and, in the case of a public Bill other than a Government Bill, the Bill shall, subject to the precedence assigned to Bills standing on the Order Paper, be taken up on the next available Monday following the day on which the Assembly concurred in the report.
These changes in the standing orders allow governments MLAs sitting in a position of majority to determine what bills presented by the opposition will proceed forward. This effectively gives the 7 UCP committee members full authority to quash any and all bills that the UCP doesn't want to hear, without ever entering fulsome debate in the legislature. As we saw in the case of Bill 203, these 7 MLAs now have the power to decide on behalf of 4 million Albertans whether we have the right to hear our legislators discuss proposed legislation that would impact each and every one of us. In this instance, committee members' unwillingness to allow it to proceed to the Assembly for a fulsome debate on the importance of strengthening public health care in this province brings clarity to the direction that we can expect this new government to take.
Although federal and provincial legislation prohibits physicians from charging for expedited or preferential access to publicly insured services, the reality is that private clinics regularly advertise exactly this type of accelerated access to things like doctor consults and tests. While clinics claim that they are willing to provide this access even to people who are not members, numerous audits show that this is not the case. Copeman Clinic in Calgary, for example, has not seen a single patient who is not a member, according to AHS audits. This is a clear violation of the spirit of both the Canada Health Act and the Alberta Health Insurance Act.
This Bill 203 would have closed these loopholes and grey areas that currently allow the continuation and proliferation of private clinics in Alberta. It would have served to uphold and strengthen Albertan’s commitment to equality that underpins our Canada Health Act, and help to finally put a stop to systemic erosion of our public health care.