The Protection of Health Care Act: A step in the right direction to protect and expand public health
With the introduction of Bill 1, the Protection of Health Care Act, Friends of Medicare is optimistic that for the first time in this province we will see the political will to protect our public health care and an end to shirking the rule of law in Canada and Alberta.
An amendment to the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act that states that the government is committed to "a single-tier public health-care system that ensures access to necessary medical care based on need and not on the ability to pay," guarantees that Albertans' public health care will be protected from the forces of privatization that have chipped away at our public health care system for decades. It also contains a commitment from the government to prohibiting:
- "Two-tier medicine and extra billing and any other form of private payment in relation to insured services;
- "The provision of accelerated access or queue-jumping in relation to insured services by reason of a private payment; and
- "Private insurance in relation to insured services."
Currently, for-profit clinics receive public funding for the insured services they provide, yet there is no transparency or accountability required of their operations. There has been no oversight or monitoring of clinic fees or practices, and auditing process by governments have been alarmingly inadequate when issues or concerns have been brought forth.
This Act will specifically address "block-billing fees," the fees charged by private clinics for members to access its services. As we have seen in the case of the Copeman Clinic and other "concierge clinics", these clinics may be acting outside of the legalities of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act by limiting their services to only individuals who can pay the membership fees, which are unaffordable for the vast majority of Albertans.
"We, the taxpayers, subsidize these clinics by paying them to provide the services that are covered under our public health care system, and yet we allow them to provide "extra services" at a profit - this flies in the face of the principles of Medicare," said Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
"Allowing 'concierge clinics' was just another decision of previous governments to violate the principles of our public health system. It didn't have to be made, and it should be un-made," continued Azocar. "These clinics don't just violate the CHA occasionally, it is their entire business model, and that is a concern."
For years, proponents 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 may provide faster access to those who pay, with little concern to the rest of Albertans who can't afford private care and rely on our public system. They claim that private clinics will reduce public waiting times, however they ignore the harsh reality doctors are a limited resource. "If doctors are in the private sector, they are not available in the public sector," stated Azocar. "By siphoning our system of already-scarce human resources, we increase wait times and access to primary and preventative health care services for the majority of 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 that everyone in this province will need at some point in their lives, and we need to ensure that everyone has access when they need it. "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 ability to pay," said Azocar. "You cannot turn doctors into medical entrepreneurs with a completely different set of incentives and still expect the system to work the same way."
Private clinics harm 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 for Albertans. Friends of Medicare is optimistic that Bill 1 will uphold and strengthen Albertans' commitment to equality that underpins our Canada Health Act, and help to finally put a stop to the systemic erosion of our public health care.
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