A Calgary clinic recently informed patients they are moving to a costly membership system for primary care. Since it is illegal in Canada to bill directly for a visit to a family doctor, membership fees such as these are designed as a loophole to get around the rules and principles contained in the Canadian Health Act.
“During the election, Premier Smith repeatedly promised that no Albertan would ever have to pay to visit a family doctor. This is her chance to show leadership and keep that commitment,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Because these fees are exactly that: an indirect way of charging families to access their family physician. It’s dishonest at best, and should not be allowed in primary care in Alberta. If they aren’t reined in now they will only continue to spread to more clinics.”
These proposed fees are part of a much larger issue facing primary care in Alberta, where an estimated 650,000 people don’t have a family doctor. Meanwhile, Friends of Medicare regularly hears from family doctors who are telling us that their operating costs continue to go up; utilities, insurance, the administrative burden of running a practice, and so on. Many are saying they’re looking to sell their practice and leave Alberta if something doesn’t change.
“The UCP government ripped up the contract with doctors and drove many out of the province, leaving hundreds of thousands of Albertans without a family doctor at all,” said Gallaway. “And we continue to hear from more and more family physicians who are saying they too are looking at leaving Alberta. If we want to fix primary care in this province, the Premier and her new Health Minister need to act quickly to change course and start listening to doctors and front-line care providers.”
These fees are part of a wider trend towards two-tier health care in Alberta, where those who can afford to are increasingly able to pay to skip the queue. This kind of stealthy privatization siphons much-needed physicians, staff and resources out of the public system, leaving everyone else waiting even longer for the care they need. For-profit interests are seeing our public health care system struggling, and are seeking out ways they can cash in, whether that be on lucrative publicly-funded government contracts or by charging patients for health care services already covered under Medicare.
“This government continues to make it clear that they’re more than willing to allow our public health care system to break in order to justify their plans to privatize it,” said Gallaway. “Their privatization schemes are failing before our eyes, while more and more for-profit interests are finding loopholes to charge patients out of pocket for health care services, whether that be surgeries, lab work, or other insured medical services.”
“We need to ensure that everyone in this province has equitable access to timely, quality health care, not just those of us who can afford to pay for it,” concluded Gallaway.