January 31, 2020
Alberta Government bent on privatization, rather than the public good
Alberta Health Services (AHS) released a Request for Expression of Interest today for surgical services in Alberta. The request follows a government announcement of a new initiative to contract out surgical services.
“’Contracting out’ is a euphemism that proponents of privatization use often to obscure the processes that governments use to pave the way for privatization,” stated Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “It is a way of putting a public good in the hands of the private sector, whose desire to increase profits always negatively impacts patient needs and safety.”
As it pertains to contracting out surgeries to address wait times, Albertans have only heard a string of rationalizations, all of them specious. Our public health system is not broken or incapable of meeting the demands on it, especially not in Alberta. We have not seen a public benefit analysis that details any positive impact that this change is anticipated to have on patients, nor anything which considers the efficient use of existing capacity within the public system, cost effectiveness, or other economic considerations.
“We are disappointed that this government is evidently bent on continuing their ideologically-driven effort to privatize an integral part of our health care system, without the willingness to look for public solutions," stated Azocar. "This is a major change to our health care system, and it ignores all evidence that private health care does not work."
Today’s Request for Expression of Interest is not limited to hip, knee, and cataract surgeries as areas that will see further privatization. They have also listed several potential procedures as areas of expansion for private surgeries, including gynecology and general surgeries, ie. hernia repair, mastectomy, and cholecystectomy.
Contracting out is not benign. What we have learned through past attempts to privatize surgeries in this province and across Canada, is that private delivery of surgical services costs more than public delivery. Not only because the government is responsible for paying for the administration of the contract, and monitoring the contractor, but because private companies’ expenses are higher as they must make a profit.
Another concern for Albertans is that there is less accountability when private companies are involved. Contracting out means that public loses our right to see what AHS pays for services from private suppliers, and is denied any input on how to provide or change services. Because private surgical facilities are governed by the contract, the only way the government is able to make a contractor respond is to renegotiate.
In the case of the Health Resource Center, we saw that when the Center failed to be profitable, contractors stopped work due to financial reasons, over 900 surgeries had to be brought back under the public system, while Albertans were left holding the bag to keep the facility running.
Friends of Medicare are calling on the government and the Minister of Health to be transparent with Albertans and to show the costs associated with contracting out surgeries. Albertans have endured governments’ costly, risky experiments with privatization in our health care system for decades, and we are no longer willing to take a policy change of this magnitude based on faith alone.
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