Setting the stage for 2019
Matters to be considered as we approach Election 2019
With an international spotlight on the divisive UCP debate on May 6 at their AGM in Red Deer over notifying parents of children joining Gay-Straight-Alliances, another important debate was being overlooked.
The UCP chose to head down a dangerous path to American style for-profit health care where the wealthy can pay to push the rest of us to the back of the line.
Part of the debate for UCP members that day was a choice between two resolutions, one supporting private health care, and another calling for policy to be “in keeping with the Canada Health Act”. In the words of one delegate from Innisfail, the choice was clear to “bury the Canada Health Act”, a declaration greeted by applause from his fellow members.
Debate then shifted to a proposal to support public subsidy of private health care services, and even worse, to also support private user pay health care.
Medicare history was briefly on display when former Health Minister Marvin Moore rose to speak against the resolution, warning delegates that Don Getty’s government had allowed private pay via extra billing at doctor’s offices, which resulted in healthcare transfer payment claw backs under the Canada Health Act in 1986.
The warnings continued, from former Wildrose Executive Director Vitor Marciano who said that moving to private funding is a problem, and from health economist and former St. Albert Mayor Richard Plain who warned of a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer payments if private pay was adopted.
A passionate speech from another delegate from Banff highlighted the good of our public system that was there when she needed it. She said that she did not want to see a two tier system for people who can’t afford to pay for treatment.
The warnings were also political, with delegates still wary of taking on an Alberta public that has time and again pushed back against attempts at health care privatization disguised as “reform”.
When it was time to vote, the voices of reason were ignored, with 76% in the hall voting in favour of expensive and exclusive private health care.
Combine this with other debate at the AGM to slash our provinces revenues by returning Alberta to a flat tax as low as 6% while also reducing corporate taxes, and we have a prescription for disaster for Albertans who value our public health system.
Other proposals that didn’t make it to the days debate in time included one to allow patients to be denied services such as abortion, trans health care, or medical assistance in dying under the cover of “conscience rights”, and another that spoke of shrinking our medicare coverage by delisting services that weren’t “medically necessary”.
It’s also telling what wasn’t up for debate at the UCP AGM, with no discussion on reducing costs for seniors needing long-term care and supportive living. For a fiscally conservative crowd, it’s surprising that there was no discussion on the multi-million dollar subsidies Alberta is currently providing to the profit margins of private health care corporations such as Extendicare and Points West Living.
As we approach the 2019 election, Albertans will be looking for leadership on issues that matter for public health care.
Instead of embracing user pay, we need to see action on private clinics charging thousands of dollars in membership fees while still billing the public system for insured services.
Instead of tax breaks for the wealthy, we need to see a balanced revenue system that can invest in improving the public system.
Instead of looking for ways to deny services, we need to expand medicare into areas like prescription drugs, dental care, and mental health.
Instead of being stuck in the status quo for continuing care, we desperately need all parties in Alberta to reject the continued grants and subsidy of for-profit seniors' care providers, and commit to a truly public expansion of Alberta’s long-term care system that can provide greater care without duplicating administration or wasting money on shareholders and executive bonuses.
These issues will be a major focus for Friends of Medicare over the next year. Whether or not you agree with us, we encourage you to join us for our 2018 conference in Edmonton on May 26, where we will hear from experts on the problems and solutions facing our system, and chart a course of action to improve public health care for all Albertans.
Sandra Azocar is the Executive Director of Friends of Medicare