Now more than ever we must fortify & expand our public health care
The past few weeks have certainly been a difficult time for all of us, but as we look around the world and to each other, this pandemic has laid bare the importance of Canada’s universal public health care system. We have seen how vital it is that we do not allow this crisis to be used to dismantle universal, public health care in Canada. However, in Alberta we have seen our government, during one of the worst health crises we have ever faced, bully through a budget that was short-sighted, attacked public services, and set the course for the privatization of our health care.
“The true measure of a government's leadership will be made evident through the political choices they make as we deal with this world pandemic, and as we move forward to deal with the new political and economic reality that will face us after this is done,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
While Albertans are reasonably worried, and have their focus turned to the well-being of their families, loved ones, and community, on April 1st our government will be imposing considerable changes that will continue their course to erode under-staff, under-resource, and privatize our public health care.
Some of the changes coming to Alberta’s health care as of April 1st include:
- Albertans who are 74.5 years old or over will have to pay for their Driver Medical Exam out of pocket – seniors will need to pay at least $85.52 per year.
- Payments for referrals by non-publicly funded practitioners such as chiropractors, audiologists and physiotherapists for publicly-funded diagnostic imaging will be the responsibility of patients. Referrals by these practitioners would be deemed uninsured.
- Physicians will no longer be able to submit Good Faith Claims, preventing them from billing for the care of patients who cannot provide identification or a valid Alberta Health card, a move that will leave vulnerable populations without access to health care.
- There will be an end to clinical stipends, impacting primary care in rural areas especially.
- Sage Health Services will be closing, leaving more than 500 seniors without much needed access to primary care within their community.
Since the time that Minister Shandro announced that his government had unilaterally terminated the contract between the Alberta government and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), we have been hearing from physicians that the new proposed payment scheme will diminish the medical care of Albertans. Doctors know that this change will threaten the viability of the community and primary medical practices across the province that form the backbone of health care for patients. While the minister has since “suspended” provisions related to the amount of time that physicians can see patients and changes to some stipends, they have nevertheless continued forward in imposing their previously announced plan for physician billing.
Meanwhile, negotiations with nurses and other health care professionals are “temporarily” suspended, though there has been no assurance that this government will not follow through with proposed cuts to front line workers once the pandemic is over. The same goes for negotiations with general support services, including housekeepers, food staff, and laundry workers, who will all see their jobs contracted out to the private sector. All those Albertans who are continuing to work tirelessly to keep our health facilities clean and safe during this pandemic, will be on the way out after the threat has passed.
“If we fail to learn from this pandemic, it will be all Albertans who will pay the greatest price. In the end we will all pay the price of growing inequality and insecurity,” says Azocar.
Now more than ever, we cannot allow this crisis to be leveraged to dismantle our universal public health care. Instead, it has become especially timely that Alberta must fortify our commitment to a system based not on profit, but instead on the shared belief that health care is a human right.
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