Ophthalmology privatization puts private profits over public good 

EDMONTON
April 22, 2022

Ophthalmology privatization puts private profits over public good 

The government’s attempts to use the pandemic as political cover to sell off our vital public health care going into high gear.

Today, Health Minister Copping announced that the government would be moving forward with plans to further privatize Alberta’s surgical services, specifically our ophthalmology. 

The persistent myth around private health care is that it serves more patients quicker, but the reality is far different. Patients are often upsold and over-referred in place of those who are truly in need. Statistics from prior to the pandemic consistently showed wait times were months longer in Calgary Zone, where over 80 percent of all non-urgent cataract surgeries are done in the private sector, than those performed in the Edmonton area, where the majority are completed in the public sector.

“Albertans have never been provided any evidence to suggest that contracting out our surgeries is less expensive, or more importantly, better for patients,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Instead, we’ve repeatedly seen that private contracts compromise transparency and accountability to the public, and result in secretive and unpredictable health care costs, and potentially poorer and less equitable care.”

Actual figures as to how much will it cost to perform cataract surgeries in the private sector compared to the public have not been shared with Albertans, however, a similar initiative in Ontario revealed contracted cataract surgeries cost the province at least 25 percent more per operation than if they were provided in hospitals. 

“Alberta has been down this road before, when previous governments made their own attempts to privatize ophthalmology and other surgical services,” said Gallaway. “Yet time and time again we’ve seen that contracting out services only adds to the complexity and inequity of the system. Albertans are still suffering the ongoing repercussions of those ideological experiments with our health care.” 

The core issue of wait times remains that regardless of the number of beds available, or who is delivering them, health care workers are a finite resource. Especially now, when doctors are leaving the province and staffing shortages are persistent throughout our health care system. An approach that siphons workers out of our public health care system in order to staff private facilities can only worsen our existing human resource problem.

“The government continues to talk about “recovery” in our health care system as an excuse to turn over major parts of our system into the hands of private, for-profit companies. If they were really interested in lowering surgical wait times, they would be working to invest in strengthening and rebuilding our public health care system in the interest of all Albertans. Instead, they seem intent to undermine it at every turn,” concluded Gallaway. “This is nothing more than yet another excuse to use our public dollars to facilitate private profits.”

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