Kenney's platform puts private profits over public interest

As Albertans head to the polls with jobs and the economy weighing heavily on their minds, there's another issue of vital importance threatening to put their financial – and physical – health at risk.

Jason Kenney's UCP health care platform makes crystal clear that the future of fair and affordable publicly-funded health care for all Albertans will be in grave danger if he is elected.

The UCP's health platform calls for a freeze on spending for four years. Despite the NDP having reduced the rate of increase to only 3 per cent each year – half of what it was before they were elected – Kenney wants a complete freeze. That means no more money to cover inflation or population growth. Zero increases can't possibly avoid substantial disruptions in care for Albertans.

Despite Alberta's downturn, Notley's government ensured that Albertans still have some of the best health care in Canada. The latest data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that more Albertans receive timely access to knee and hip replacements, and hip fracture surgery, than do those living in B.C., Saskatchewan, or Manitoba.

Simplified promises putting a hard line on money over smart health planning will open doors to two-tier health care that puts private profits ahead of patients. And that's exactly the UCP's plan.

The UCP wants to expand private-pay surgical and diagnostic services currently paid for by Alberta Health Care.

A key supporter of Kenney's health platform is none other than Dr. Brian Day, President of Cambie Surgeries Corporation, a for-profit investor-owned surgical centre in Vancouver whose business has flourished under the neglect of previous governments. Years of underinvestment, poor planning of health services, and an ideological belief that free markets can solve all problems, have allowed profit-driven services to creep into B.C.'s health care landscape. This is neither smart health planning nor a solution in trying economic times.

Under the guise of preserving patient choice – and after years of unlawfully charging patients for surgeries – Cambie Surgery Centre is challenging B.C.'s law that ensures equitable access to publicly-funded hospital and physician care. In particular, they seek to overturn the prohibition on purchasing private insurance that duplicates what is already covered under B.C.'s public plan. Private insurance would allow those who can afford it to jump the queue.

They also aim to overturn limits on extra billing so that doctors could charge patients extra on top of what government pays. Beyond that, they want to end the ban on physicians working in "dual practice", which would mean doctors could open lucrative private pay boutique practices and also be paid from the public purse.

Since the trial began in September 2016, the plaintiffs have failed to present convincing arguments that private payment for medically necessary care would benefit patients, other than those who could afford to pay. On the contrary, allowing private payment would rob the public system of doctors and nurses, increasing wait times for everyone else.

The trial outcome could have implications across Canada, including Alberta. If the court rules that B.C.'s health care law is unconstitutional, then parts of the Canada Health Act would become unenforceable, which would affect all other provinces. Yet, Dr. Day claims that the UCP's health care platform should be a template for the rest of Canada, raising alarm bells for Albertans who value fair access to the health care system.

If you think Albertans are struggling financially now with the pipeline delay, imagine how much harder life will be when patients have to start paying out-of-pocket or buying private insurance to pay for health care under the UCP's plan.