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Docs concerned path to privatization being paved

Bill 30 sets stage for corporations to run publicly-funded clinics

SUNDRE — At least two local doctors from both clinics in the community are concerned the provincial government is paving a path towards a for-profit, privatized health-care system funded by public dollars. 

“I do think that this government is really wanting to see a public-private system developed — I do feel that’s part of where they’re going,” said Dr. Michelle Warren, who runs Moose & Squirrel Medical Clinic with husband Dr. Rob Warren.

With prior experience working in New Zealand, which once boasted an entirely public system until changes in recent decades introduced market and health insurance elements, Warren said there are pros and cons with a public-private system.

“If you can afford it, you can get great care,” she said during an interview near the end of June.

“Doctors who work in the public system will tell you, the wait lists are no different than in Alberta for hip surgeries or anything else, if you can afford to pay.”

In Alberta, she said radiology as well as lab services are being sold out to the highest bidder, and added, “It’s the beginning."

Dr. Bill Ward, lead physician with the Greenwood Family Physicians, said when asked about concerns that the provincial government is paving the path towards privatization bit by bit, “It doesn’t sound to be bit by bit. Because they are talking about selling off Alberta Precision Laboratories, which are actually what produces most of the pathology services.

“My big question is, quite honestly, who’s going to buy that for a few billion dollars and then try and make sure that they get the money out of the government on the contract they’ve just signed?”

Asked whether he anticipates costs eventually increasing because privatization typically means prioritizing profits, he sighed and said, “That’s the big problem isn’t it? That’s what happens in the States. You look at 20 per cent of their GDP going into health services and it doesn’t cover all the population.”

Echoing Warren’s comment, Ward said people who can afford access have their choice of quality health care wherever they want it.

“But if you’re just the average man on the street, you can lose the vast majority of your cash in hand — and a lot of the cash that you thought you had in hand — on a relatively small problem.” 

The provincial government’s passing of Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, has not allayed the concerns of physicians.

“The changes contained in this bill have the potential to turn over our resources, health-care dollars and staff to private companies that will be subsidized by public health-care dollars, rather than put towards improving our existing public health-care system,” reads a portion of a press release from the Friends of Medicare issued last week in response to the government’s announcement.

The government says the act will “change nine pieces of health legislation to ensure the government can meet its health-care commitments to strengthen public health care so all Albertans have access to high quality, sustainable, person-centred health services.”