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UCP Leader Jason Kenney wants to explore private health-care options

WATCH ABOVE: We're getting our first look at the United Conservative plan for Alberta's health-care system. Leader Jason Kenney says if elected premier, he won't cut the health-care budget, but he will look at ways to cut costs. That could mean more private delivery. Tom Vernon explains.

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says a United Conservative government would work to reduce bureaucratic bloat in health care and explore private delivery options.

Privately delivered care for minor procedures is improving wait times in other jurisdictions and any changes he made would still be funded under public health, Kenney said Wednesday.

“We’re open to that kind of common-sense competition,” he told a news conference at an Edmonton seniors home

“We’re not going to let ideology get in the way of our focus, which is timely patient care.”

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Alberta already contracts out some care such as eye procedures.

READ MORE: Vaccine for pregnant women to prevent whooping cough in infants now free in Alberta

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Kenney made the comments as he revealed the broad strokes of his party’s health platform ahead of the spring election.

Alberta’s health spending is $22 billion this year, about 40 per cent of the total budget. Kenney promised to keep spending at current levels, but not increase it.

“With the most expensive health system in Canada, I believe we can find some savings to do things more efficiently without affecting front-line services,” he said.

“This is a guarantee to reallocate any savings found to the front-lines to improve quality care.”

READ MORE: Notley attacks Kenney budget plan, says even spending freeze a harmful cut for Alberta

The NDP government under Premier Rachel Notley has resisted deep cuts to health and education, and funding has taken into account population growth and inflation. But in doing so the New Democrats have racked up multibillion-dollar budget deficits and a debt forecast to reach $96 billion by 2024.

Kenney said health results are not matching the cash outlay. Wait times for cataract surgeries and knee and hip replacements are going up, he added.

He said a UCP government would launch a third-party review of the province’s arm’s-length health delivery agency known as Alberta Health Services to target redundancies and inefficiencies in 4,000 management positions.

READ MORE: Wait times for hip and knee procedures on the rise in Alberta

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The review would include talks with front-line staff and would help determine ways to improve health-care delivery, he said. A report would be expected by the end of the year and would frame decisions in the 2020 budget.

“We’re not starting with the intention of job losses in the public sector,” Kenney said. “We’re looking at attrition as a way of dealing with those.

“You’ve got a lot of baby boomers who are reaching retirement. If they’re in administrative positions that are made redundant … then there will be other options made available to them within the government. But many of those folks might be willing to take packages for early retirement.”

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said a freeze on health spending would be devastating given Alberta’s rapidly growing and aging population.

She agreed that wait times for cataract surgeries and knee and hip replacements need to be addressed, but noted that breast cancer surgery wait times are down, as are waits for radiation treatments.

“These are life-saving surgeries,” said Hoffman. “There’s more to be done, but you’re not going to get that by freezing funding when other health-care needs continue to go up.”

Debates over private care have long been fractious and politically polarizing in Alberta. Critics call private care a covert way to siphon public dollars to private providers so that those with the deepest pockets can jump to the head of the line.

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