Alberta’s United Conservative Party has voted to approve a policy that supports creating a “privately funded and privately managed health-care system.”
The party voted to approve the policy during its annual general meeting Saturday, in a vote that squeaked through with nearly 53 per cent in favour, the closest vote of all 30 policies the party approved.
“Health care is the greatest budgetary expense. Recent events have shown how vulnerable the system is to demand fluctuations on it,” the policy says.
“Not only have physicians been upset that there is no more money in the public purse, the government is fiscally unable to spend more toward their billing fees.”
The policy also says that physicians should be allowed to run a “hybrid system” practice, charging fees for services “to remain solvent and grow in scope.”
It also specifies that patients “will have a choice” between a private and a public service. It adds the private system could help keep medical tourism dollars in Alberta.
Over 46 per cent of the party members at the meeting voted against Policy 11, meaning that around 365 people were against it, out of a total of 793 votes.
Nate Glubish, the minister of Service Alberta, was one of the MLAs who opposed the policy.
“The way it is worded, it can be viewed as being contrary to what we ran on in the last election,” Glubish said during a debate on the policy Friday.
“We ran on a commitment to guarantee and preserve a publicly funded universally accessible health care system,” Glubish said.
“This can be viewed as contrary to this and can put all of us MLAs who ran on that in a very tough position.”
The policy approval comes just days after the government announced that upwards of 11,000 people will be laid off from Alberta Health Services, in a move the government says will result in savings of $600 million per year, once implemented.
When he announced the layoffs Tuesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said, “there will be no job losses for nurses or front-line clinical staff.”
Neither Shandro nor Premier Jason Kenney spoke during the debate over the weekend on Policy 11.
Christine Myatt, a spokesperson for the office of the premier, said Sunday the policy resolutions that were passed will help develop the UCP’s next election platform and won’t have an actual impact in the province until the party’s next term.
“It is the 2019 electoral platform which has a direct democratic mandate, since that is what all Albertans were able to vote on,” she said in a statement to Global News.
“We will of course be consulting with many groups in the development of the 2023 platform,” Myatt said.
“Platform policies must also be consistent with Canadian law, including the Charter and the Canada Health Act.
“Our priority today is improving Albertans’ access to publicly funded health services, including reducing wait times, which have increased in recent years.”
David Shepherd, the Alberta NDP’s critic for health, said Saturday that he believes many Albertans do not support a private system.
“I’ve been receiving a large number of emails — mostly being cc’d on emails going to UCP MLAs,” Shepherd said. “From folks in Calgary and other parts of the province, making it very clear they do not support an American-style two-tier private health-care system in the province of Alberta.”
Shepherd also said in a Sunday news release that the policy should be denounced immediately.
“If Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro value the lives of Albertans and the contributions of our health-care workers, they will immediately denounce this dangerous policy.”
Myatt said Sunday that the premier’s office is prioritizing improving the health system.
“While the NDP only wants to fear monger and defend the status quo of rapidly increasing costs with longer wait times, our priority is actual results for Albertans,” Myatt said.
Not a ‘done deal’: experts
Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in health law and policies, said Sunday that just because the policy was approved doesn’t mean it will become reality.
“I think to those who are concerned about the implications of a two-tier health-care system, certainly this isn’t a done deal, and certainly there’s a lot of opportunity for them to talk to their MLAs and to talk with others in their community,” Hardcastle said.
The fact the policy vote was so close shows the topic is “hugely controversial even within the party,” she said.
Alberta political scientist Duane Bratt said that people need to keep in mind the policy doesn’t mean the government is going to force people to use a private system.
“People are very concerned about health care in Alberta, particularly now,” Bratt said. “I think this is different, but it needs to be put in the context of outsourcing jobs from AHS. That’s not necessarily private health care, it’s still a publicly funded health-care system – it’s private delivery of some of the services that are ancillary. We’re not talking doctors or nurses.”
However, the UCP policy does not specify what services could be outsourced or what percentage of work physicians would keep public.
Hardcastle said she would have concerns about equality and finances being tied to health if the policy becomes a political reality in Alberta.
“This policy would allow individuals to take out private health insurance and to pay privately for care. And of course, only certain people have the financial situation or the employment situation to be able to do that.
“Private finance is a situation where individuals can either pay out of pocket to get access to doctors or can take out private insurance to access private delivery.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said on Twitter Saturday that the policy directly goes against a campaign promise Kenney made before the UCP was elected.
She called the guarantee “to maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system” that Kenney was previously photographed signing, “a cheap political stunt.”
The UCP approved all 30 policies they debated at the annual general meeting, also including Policy 10, which would see the provincial government push to collect taxes paid by Albertans over the government of Canada, and Policy 8, which supports withdrawing Alberta’s funds from the Canada Pension Plan and starting a provincial one.