Don’t Adopt Failed Alberta Health Model, by Ross Hinther

Don’t adopt failed Alta. health model, by Ross Hinther

Note: Following is the viewpoint of the writer, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Health Coalition, as published in the Star Phoenix, April 9, 2010.

The Saskatchewan Government is copying the Alberta health care delivery model by financing the expansion of private for-profit surgery clinics.

The failed model fragments the system, removes scarce doctors and nurses from the public system, increases costs, lengthens wait lists for some patients, and reduces transparency and accountability.

The government’s first privatization step is to expand the private sector services paid by taxpayers, while it constrains funding for the public sector.  Our Health Coalition is concerned that not all hospitals in the health regions have been given access to the $5.5 million to further decrease wait lists for elective surgery.  Last year, the government deferred $3 million in capital funding for an ambulatory clinic in Regina.

The next step toward privatization of healthcare in Saskatchewan, is likely to be activity-based funding on a pay per procedure where the hospitals will get less while the private for-profit clinics will get more by doing quick high volume profitable procedures.  Wait times will increase for the frail and elderly as the hospitals try to cope with the more complicated cases and get less funding.  The major impediment to further waiting list reduction is the province wide shortage of health professionals.  Moving them is not the answer.

The costs of surgery in private clinics will escalate and exceed the cost of public facilities after the private clinics introductory prices end.  Alberta Health Services says the cost of hip and knee surgery in Edmonton’s Royal Alex Hospital is $4,500 while the private for-profit Health Resources Centre cost is $14,000.

To meet its goal of transparency and not hide behind commercial contracts, the Saskatchewan government must disclose all the costs of privatization including facility fees, loan guarantees, etc.   Does the Workmen’s Compensation Board already pay more for a procedure done at private for profit clinics than it does at a hospital or non-profit clinic?

Other provinces already are having accountability and transparency problems with their private clinics.  Former CMA president Dr. Brian Day’s private clinics have refused access to their books by the British Columbia Government.  The B.C. Medical Services Commission has received at least 30 complaints that the clinics have engaged in double-billing by requesting payment from both the patient and the provincial government.

Where is the evidence of better care, and who benefits from the privatization of Medicare?  The rights of private investor rights trump those of patients, as investor rights are protected by trade agreements such as NAFTA and Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.

The Saskatchewan Health Coalition urges the provincial government to put patients first and not copy the failed privatization model of other provinces.