The documents released yesterday by the Alberta Federation of Labour further highlight the Alberta government's failure to protect and expand our public health care system.
The 'Advice to the Minister' document pointed out a number of areas where the Copeman Clinic may be acting outside of the legalities of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act "by voluntarily limiting their practice to only individuals who can pay the membership fees." The fees being charged by these for-profit clinics are unaffordable for the vast majority of Albertans.
"We cannot afford to stand by and watch our health care system slowly transform into a two-tier system," warned Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. "Albertans want to see our public health care system improved and expanded, but these clinics are taking us in the opposite direction. Public dollars are being used to pay for health care services only accessible to the wealthiest Albertans who can afford these boutique clinics. The result is shorter wait times for wealthy Albertans and longer wait times for everyone else."
Further, Friends of Medicare is concerned that the Copeman Clinic is in contravention of the Canada Health Act. Under this Federal Act, for-profit clinics are not legally allowed to provide publicly-funded services. "We, the taxpayers, subsidize these clinics by paying them for the services that are covered under our public health care system and yet we allow them to provide for-profit 'extra services' - this flies in the face of the principles of Medicare," said Azocar.
For years now, promoters of for-profit health care have been doing their best to convince the general public that the only way to improve Canada's health care system is to open it to private, for-profit interests. They suggest that private medical facilities provide faster access to those who pay and that those who can afford it should be able to pay for private health care. They suggest that private clinics will reduce public waiting times, however they ignore the harsh reality that there are only so many doctors to go around.
"If doctors are in the private sector, they are not available in the public sector," stated Azocar." So by draining our system of already-scare human resources we are increasing wait times and access to primary and preventative health care services for most Albertans."
Canadians and Albertans know that if we did not have our current health care system in place, most could not afford care. "Health care is a universal need; everyone in this province will need to use it sooner or later," indicated Azocar. "By creating a market system for health care, we are creating a two-tier system - one that is based not on need but rather on your ability to pay. Private clinics distort the public system. They don't save money; they fix no problem that the public system itself can't fix; and they introduce a whole world of new problems. You cannot turn doctors into medical entrepreneurs with a completely different set of incentives while expecting the system to work the same way."
Friends of Medicare expects and demands that the Alberta government show leadership for public health care and explain why it did not follow through with the recommendations from their senior staff to conduct a thorough investigation of the practices of these private, boutique clinics. Albertans deserve an answer to why these private corporations are being allowed to transform our publicly-funded system into a two-tier system. We are adding our voices to the call for a thorough investigation to be completed by this government into the legalities of the billing practices of these clinics.