Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Klein's Health Care Challenge

We all were on edge waiting for Ralph Klein to shoot his mouth off about health care during the election campaign. He didn't. But now that the new government is about to take office, he's ready to go:

The Alberta government is considering legislation that would no longer recognize the supremacy of the Canada Health Act, would allow doctors to practice medicine concurrently in the private and public systems and could open the door to for-profit hospitals operated by foreign corporations, the Edmonton Journal has learned.

The new Alberta Health Care Assurance Act, which Premier Ralph Klein insists will be tabled in the legislature this spring, replaces three existing laws, including the once-controversial Health Care Protection Act, known widely as Bill 11.

That bill said the Government of Alberta "is committed to the preservation of the principles of universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration as described in the Canada Health Act."

The proposed new law would drop any reference to the Canada Health Act, although it would retain much of its spirit.

Draft documents proclaim that the new act will be more flexible and broad.

The draft legislation also drops two key items contained in Bill 11's section Protection of Publicly Funded Health Care: that no person shall operate a private hospital in Alberta; and that queue jumping and uninsured surgical services are expressly prohibited.

How the Harper government responds to this challenge will determine whether we can expect to have meaningful health care reform this term, or the next.

If it cuts off transfers, as it can under the Canada Health Act, it will be a sign of business as usual, no different from the denials made by the outgoing Liberal government about the health care system's failings until it came time to "fix health care for a generation" with another wad of cash to the provinces.

If it ignores the new act completely, the public monopoly's defenders will kick up one hell of a fuss, but the storm will blow over once people see waiting times fall and real savings to the public. And it will show that the Harper government really will step back from provincial jurisdiction in this crucial matter.

Source: National Post

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