Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 13, 2000
Church officials reject health care reforms
Private clinics could destroy universal health care
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
New provincial health legislation expanding the role of private surgery in Alberta may end up destroying the system of universal health care rather than curing its ills, Catholic officials fear.
Bill 11, tabled in the legislature March 2, may lead to a full private health care system in competition with medicare, says John Lynch of Edmonton's Social Justice Commission.
"Why can't Premier (Ralph) Klein understand that we simply do not want our Canadian health care privatized?"
The Health Care Protection Act, as Bill 11 is called, says no "major" surgery will be done outside public hospitals but leaves the definition of what constitutes minor surgery to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
It sets new fines for queue jumping and for physicians who charge patients inappropriate extra fees for insured services.
Klein says the bill responds to changing realities in the delivery of health services and provides flexibility for the future.
He says it is now possible for a variety of surgical procedures - such as tonsillectomies or cataract removal - to be done safely outside public hospitals.
Claire Mills, executive director of the Catholic Health Association of Alberta, said while the bill seems to protect the principles of the Canada Health Act, it also creates a role for the private, for-profit sector.
"(But) I don't believe it does cure the ills (of the public system)," Mills said. "I don't think it addresses the reform issues that have been identified by everyone as needing to be done. It just allows for a role for the private sector in the delivery of acute care services. It expands their role."
Mills said the only thing that she welcomed in the bill is "the fact the bill is out there and we can respond to it."
The Catholic Health Association was to study its response to the bill March 9. "We'll have to look in a very deep way at whether it aligns with our values," Mills said. "But it seems on the face of it, it may not align with our values."
Lynch said the bill, which allows overnight post-surgery stays in private clinics under tightly-controlled regulations, is the first step to two-tiered health care, where the rich can pay for faster and better service.
The bill purports to ban private hospitals but Lynch said the "private surgical facilities" allowed under the bill are "private hospitals" under another name.
Mills agreed, saying, "From what our collective understanding of what a hospital is, certainly they appear to be hospitals under another name."
Klein said the bill is needed to more closely regulate existing private day-surgery clinics and to explore new and better ways to deliver services.
"It shuts the door on two-tier health care without closing the door on change and choice," the premier said.
Lynch disagrees. "If you read that bill, it makes it very possible for owners of private for-profit clinics not only to provide certain surgical procedures but to sell extra things," he said.
"That's two-tier right there. You are dipping into the public funding and you are getting your own private for-profit sale of commodities (like upgraded lenses for cataract surgery or better quality casts)."
Said Lynch: "The bill allows for two-tier because it says you can have it both ways. . . .You can buy their services."
Lynch agrees the status quo isn't working but he said Klein, whom he accuses of almost destroying the public system through funding cuts, doesn't need to go to privatized clinics to induce change.
What the premier needs to do is improve the public system by putting more money back into it, improving its accountability system and bringing staffing up to a reasonable level.
"You can have change within the public system. We don't need to have somebody making a profit in order to have change."
The Canadian model of health care is based on the Gospel values of compassion, healing and caring which for-profit facilities don't uphold, Lynch warned.
"Private for-profit hospitals turn medicare into a commodity that is bought and sold according to the laws of the market and that doesn't work because you don't choose to get sick."
Government officials have said the minister needs this protection if he rejects a private surgery contract or moves to close a private hospital.
The Social Justice Commission is calling on people to contact the premier and their MLAs stating their concern about the privatization of health care.