Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Klein’s health plan rings alarm
Catholic health group to fight two-tier proposal
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Days after the federal election, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein announced plans for health care that have set off alarm bells at the Catholic Health Association of Canada (CHAC).
Klein has proposed more private health care, allowing doctors to practise in both the public and private health care systems, and letting Albertans buy private insurance for some types of care.
“To purchase private health insurance for medical care presents the whole dilemma of moving us to two levels of health care,” said CHAC vice president for advocacy and public policy James Roche. “It’s a crucial issue, one that we’re opposed to.”
Private insurance “sets up the promise that there will be a promise of higher quality care for those who are ready to purchase that care and will eventually lead to a superior private system and a mediocre public system,” he said.
“Health care practitioners can’t be in two places at one time,” he said. “Once the parallel system is developed, much-needed doctors, radiologists, nurses will not be in the public systems.”
The pull of the private system will mean increased wait times for care in the public system,” Roche said.
Roche hopes the government will look at steps already made to reduce wait times in the public system, and not assume that merely adding more doctors or equipment is the answer.
He pointed to a 2004 study on radiology tests that shows making sure no inappropriate testing is done and properly managing equipment use can free up waiting lists.
When Klein announced his plans following a Jan. 26 Edmonton cabinet meeting, he acknowledged that his proposed legislation might run afoul of the Canada Health Act.
“While Stephen Harper did mention the whole issue of the Canada Health Act (previously), he also mentioned something else and I think it is significant — the authority of the provinces to exercise their constitutional rights,” Klein said.
The next day a spokesman for Harper said Alberta’s proposed changes must line up with the Canada Health Act.
But Klein’s proposals come in the wake of last June’s Chaoulli decision. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Quebec law against private insurance violated the province’s charter guaranteeing security of the person because of long wait times.
Private insurance “will eventually lead to a superior private system and a mediocre public system.”
- - James Roche
The court gave Quebec a year to reduce its wait times or allow private insurance.
Roche expressed concern that Quebec seemed to be signalling it is “likely to lift the ban on private insurers.”
Harper has coupled his wait times guarantee with a proposal to reduce the fiscal imbalance — that is the amount of tax revenue Ottawa receives and how much the provinces receive to supply the services under their jurisdiction.
That could lead to a reduced federal role in overseeing health care.
Roche pointed out the federal government plays a key role ensuring the Canada Health Act is respected.
Without federal leadership the Canada will not have an equitable and portable health care system, he said.
He admitted that already coverage and standards are not uniform, but said there is a commitment across the country to aim for it.