Vive Le Canada

Alberta Health 3rd Way is "gimmicky slogan"!
Date: Sunday, February 05 2006

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Alberta's health-reform plan raises fears of move toward U.S. model

EDMONTON (CP) - A law that once prompted hundreds of Albertans to storm the legislature in protests over privatized health care is now itself on the chopping block.

The provincial government is preparing more radical reforms that some fear signal a move toward American-style health care delivery.

When it was still being debated as Bill 11, the Health Care Protection Act at one point prompted 10,000 people to rally against it. Premier Ralph Klein's government ended up compromising by adding a preamble that guaranteed the province would not violate the Canada Health Act.

Now the government is preparing to replace it with a new Health Assurance Act that offers greater choice for those willing to pay for quicker treatment - which may very well conflict with the federal medicare law.

It's part of the Third Way model, which Klein has said will fall somewhere between a totally public system and a totally private one.

"All that we've seen suggests we're moving closer and closer to a U.S. model," says Wendy Armstrong, the Alberta voice for the Consumers Association of Canada. "Health care where your family's access is tied to the benefits that come with your job."

Health Minister Iris Evans is guarded when she talks about the nine-point health reform package that will be introduced as legislation this spring. But she rejects any comparison with the U.S health-care system.

"I do not believe at all that this is a move towards what the Americans are doing," Evans said in an interview.

"When they need a public system, regardless of their ability to pay, they will be able to access it. We will not be changing that part of the guarantee at all."

But Armstrong calls the Third Way a "gimmicky slogan" for changes that many people don't yet understand.

"It appears the province is trying to roll us back to the times before medicare, when there was more reliance on private insurance or out-of-pocket payments."

Alberta's health reforms will challenge the Canada Health Act on two fronts, allowing patients to pay cash to jump the queue and allowing doctors to practise in both the public and private health systems.

Evans says the new Alberta act is about "more choice and options for individuals."

But Armstrong says it's not about consumer choice. She says the reforms will open the door to firms that want to market quick access to treatment, sometimes to patients who are desperate and vulnerable.

Evans says she believes Albertans will like the changes and she's downplaying the importance of changing the guarantees offered in Bill 11.

"If you felt that the Health Protection Act was the best protection for the future . . . then you might say, 'Well, they've traded that away,' " she said. "We're not prepared to acknowledge that anything's being traded away."

No one expects to see a repeat of the major protests that marked the introduction of Bill 11 in 1988. But Harvey Voogd of the lobby group Friends of Medicare finds it ironic that Bill 11 is now coming back to haunt the Klein government.

"What they call choice is basically allowing those with fatter wallets to get to the front of the line," said Voogd. "That's something Canadians and Albertans have historically rejected."

Voogd says this will be a test case for the new federal Conservative government, especially after prime minister-designate Stephen Harper's repeated promises to protect the Canada Health Act.

Alberta's opposition parties have also been sounding the alarm over the Third Way health reforms.

Liberal Opposition Leader Kevin Taft even suggested at one point that patients could die if the public health-care system is weakened in favour of more private delivery.

"I don't think people realize what's going on," said Taft. "People won't realize the consequences until it's too late."

NDP Leader Brian Mason says he expects Albertans will be "bombarded with propaganda" when the health legislation is introduced this spring.

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 7, 2006]

This article comes from Vive Le Canada

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