Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 13, 2006
Two-tier health system gets cool reception
Protect public system says archbishop
-Design Pics photo
The highest quality health care must be available to all regardless of their ability to pay, says Archbishop Thomas Collins.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholic leaders are critical of the Alberta government's proposed Third Way, saying the government's health reform package opens the door to a two-tiered health care system - one for the poor and another for the rich.
"It's very important in any reform of health care that the public health care system be very much protected," Archbishop Thomas Collins said from Olds March 7.
"Health care is a service of the common good and therefore it is very important that the highest quality of health care be available to all people totally independent of their ability to pay for it. The poor as well as the rich should have access to high quality health care."
Premier Ralph Klein unveiled his government's 10-point health policy framework Feb. 28, launching a national debate about how far privatization should go.
In doing so the premier said his main goal is to bring health care spending in line with inflation.
If the legislation goes ahead in April after a month of public input, the government will, among other things, allow physicians to perform medically necessary services in both the public and private systems; enact a tougher system for determining whether future health treatments and services will be covered under the public system; and take advantage of "business opportunities" to attract foreign patients who can pay for medical procedures.
Gerard Lewis, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of Canada, said Klein's plan is two-tier medicine. He called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene.
"Alberta's third way, as it has been described, opens the door to a two-tier for-profit health care (system) in Canada and our position is that we need to retain our universally accessible single-tier medicare system," he said from Ottawa March 7.
Impact on whole system
"If you have a second tier of health care where you have procedures that are taken out of medicare and commodified and turned into a private for-profit practice, you are going to have certain impact on the health care system as a whole.
"Third way opens the door to a health care system where people who have money will pay for it and people who don't have money will end up not having the same access."
In the last federal election campaign Harper promised to defend Canada's medicare system and Lewis said the CHAC will hold him to that promise.
On March 2 Lewis sent a letter to Harper asking him to oppose Alberta's health reform proposal, saying the third way undermines medicare and would have repercussions throughout Canada.
"It is clear the Alberta government is signalling that it has the political will to establish a two-tier system that will consist of a superior private system and a mediocre public system," his letter states.
The CHAC says there is no evidence a parallel private system will deliver better or cheaper care, or improve access. On the contrary, it says, "evidence from other countries shows that where doctors are allowed to work in both the public and private system wait times have increased in the public system."
"The CHAC believes the important goals of managing health care costs and reducing wait times can be achieved through innovation and greater accountability within the existing publicly funded, not-for-profit delivery system, rather than turning to for-profit delivery of health care as a solution," added Lewis.
Michael Shea, CEO of the Alberta Catholic Health Corporation (ACHA), an umbrella organization that sponsors 12 Catholic health facilities around the province, says his organization opposes any move away from a publicly funded and universally accessible health care system.
"We advocate, based on our values of justice and dignity of the person, for a health policy that's universally accessible to the broad community," he said March 7. "We think that providing options for private care is moving away from universal access."
The corporation will send a full submission to Health Minister Iris Evans after March 15. Some of the points in the government's plan, especially those that speak about collaboration within the system and the role of health care professionals could have a positive impact on the system, Shea said.
Archbishop Collins said, "Health care is not simply a commodity like other kinds of commodity."
"Health care is more like the service provided by the fire department or by the police rather than like a product of another type.
"So in whatever way in which health care is developed in our province I think that the principle that all people need the highest quality of health care needs to be protected. I presume that in the input being given to the government in this period that that will be emphasized by many people."
Collins said everybody has a role in shaping the future of medicare. "I would strongly encourage Catholics and really all citizens to respond to the invitation of the government to give them their comments because this is obviously a very crucial and central thing," he said.
Primarily a service
"There are a lot of different proposed solutions for the difficulties we face in health care but I think the basic principles need to be very clear: that health care is primarily a service and not a commodity."
Marilyn Weber, chair of the Christian Health Association of Alberta, an interdenominational organization with 28 faith-based health care facilities, said she didn't have enough information to take "a big stand" on the issue but she recommended the government be cautious.
"We would advise that the premier and the government take caution because we too have concerns for what might happen with the public system and for those people who could not afford to pay for services," she said from Castor.