16 years ago, Alberta began another risky experiment in privatized health care, one that ended up costing Albertans millions of dollars, and which left 900+ patients in the lurch, whose surgeries ultimately had to be brought back under the public system. In 2004 the Calgary Health Region awarded the privately owned Health Resource Centre (HRC) a $20 million contract for the provision of 2500 hip and knee surgeries—one third of all those performed in Calgary at the time. While the health authority admitted Alberta was paying 10% more for these surgeries than if they were performed in the public system, they claimed they had no choice but to continue the deal.
In 2010, the HRC declared bankruptcy, forcing the government to bail them out to the tune of millions of dollars so that patients weren't abandoned. "The government should cut these investor driven private health schemes loose from the public purse before we wind up losing more money and compromising the security of our health system even further," said FOM's former Executive Director in response to the HRC's bankruptcy.
► Here's a roundup of articles on the Health Resource Centre compiled by Physicians for a National Health Program
Albertans protesting the bailout of the HRC in 2010
A decade later, a new private surgical facility is seeking to set up shop in Edmonton, using the Health Resource Centre's failed business model.
The government has made clear that they're interested in contracting out many more of Alberta's surgical services as a part of their "Surgical Wait Times Initiative." The claim, as always, is that privatizing and contracting out this vital part of Alberta's public health care system will shorten wait times and reduce health care costs. Unfortunately for them, this has been proven wrong time and time again. When Parkland Institute fact-checked the strategy, they noted that "despite Kenney’s focus on private providers, however, the key lesson from both the Alberta and Saskatchewan examples is that what reduces costs and wait times is increased coordination, planning, and collaboration by all players within the public system, NOT padding the profit margins of private providers."
All of the best evidence from across Canada and worldwide shows that private surgeries are costlier than those done in the public system; private surgeries don't shorten wait times, and can actually lengthen them; and private surgeries undermine the universality of our public health care. Or, as a young Tyler Shandro put it, years before becoming Alberta's current Health Minister: "The problem with allowing private clinics is that their inefficiency will cause more stress on the publicly-funded health care. That means longer waiting lists not just for them, but across the board. Health care will be more expensive for everyone supplying it." ... what changed, Ty?
Why does private health care lengthen public wait times? via the CHC
Friends of Medicare are not advocating for the status quo. Albertans need systemic changes that will address issues of wait times, but they must be in line with the vision of improving on the solid foundation that we have within our public system. Our health care system has the capacity to provide the best care possible. What we are faced with is the problem of how to properly manage our resources in order to improve and expand our health care, and to ensure quality and timely care for all Albertans. Fortunately, there are experts who have dedicated their time to making recommendations on how we can achieve just that!
► Read why the surgical backlog must not be fixed at the expense of the health care system from Canadian doctors
► Read the case for public innovation and provincial leadership in reducing surgical wait times from the CCPA
The bottom line is that contracting out, as we saw in the case of the HRC, will only add to the complexity and inequity of the system. Our public health system exists to provide health care to those who need it, not business opportunities for medical entrepreneurs. Alberta must learn from the past to avoid replicating the same risky, costly privatization experiments that only serve to erode our vital public health care system.
Written by: Alyssa Pretty, Communications Officer at Friends of Medicare
August 13, 2020
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