Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Healthcare and the Upcoming Budget

As some of you may know, I am the Co-Chair of the Palliser Friends of Medicare.  It was in that capacity that I made a presentation to the Alberta NDP as part of their "Broken Promises Budget Tour". 

This is what I said:

I would like to briefly touch on 3 areas of concern at both the provincial and local levels regarding healthcare and the upcoming budget.

First I would like to speak about Healthcare Premiums. Ever since the Premier announced that the government would be looking at alternative revenue streams, murmurs of the return of healthcare premiums have become louder and louder. We are opposed to the re-institution of healthcare premiums as a source of revenue for a number of reasons.

Since healthcare has been shown to be the primary concern of the majority of Albertans, they may tolerate the reintroduction of premiums if they are under the impression that the premiums are tied to the provision and accessibility of healthcare. They may assume that their premiums will be used towards healthcare costs, but that is not the case. The $1 billion in revenue from premiums would most probably go into the general revenue fund, as it did in the past.

The Premier campaigned on a promise of no new taxes, but healthcare premiums are just that, a regressive tax that unfairly burdens low and middle income families. For example, under the old premium plan someone who earned $50,000/yr with 4 children paid the same as someone who earned $500,000/yr with no children.

Rather than making an unpopular, but more equitable decision to institute a progressive income tax, the government is counting on Albertan’s need and desire for a functioning healthcare system to force us to swallow the bitter pill of healthcare premiums. They will do this rather than return to a progressive income tax or restructure natural resource royalties and risk the loss of the support of the wealthy who finance their party and campaigns.

Secondly, I would like to suggest the use of efficiencies & accountability in AHS management and administration as a cost saving measure, rather than front-line staff bearing the brunt of potential cuts after the budget comes down in March with it’s expected shortfall. This is especially timely after the recent news reports regarding the shameful use of AHS expense accounts and consequential unaccounted for funds.

I’m concerned that rather than trimming the fat of their own administration, AHS will make cuts to doctors, nurses and beds. Particularly as Minister of Finance Doug Horner has left those decisions up to the AHS management, even after their mishandling of funds. I feel more and more every day that we have a government that wants to wash it’s hands of the task of governing: by contracting, by outsourcing, by privatizing, and by offloading to non-profit organizations, the responsibility they have to the taxpaying constituents who employ them.

The creation of Alberta Health Services was the Conservative’s great plan to create an efficient system, but it has instead been a fiasco, causing more controversy and inefficiency than when local boards oversaw the administration of the healthcare system.

Thirdly, I would like to mention two local healthcare topics. First is the promised but never delivered detox centre. A local detox centre was first discussed in 2004, and 9 years later it would appear that we are little closer to it happening than when it was first discussed. The original hospital expansion plans approved by the government had 14 detox in-hospital beds. That hospital expansion has been scaled back by more than half from it’s original $420 million pricetag, and the Hospital Detox beds were cut in the new expansion plans. Health Minister Fred Horne has confirmed that AHS is considering a site, but Alberta Infrastructure says that no decisions have been made and that site options are still being considered. A plan was approved in 2010 and an announcement made in 2011 that we would be getting six residential detox beds and 12 residential treatments beds ready by 2013. As you well know, it’s now 2013 and there is still no treatment facility. We understand that the implementation of a new facility and program take time, but we are the only city of this size in the province without a facility or program of this nature.

Finally, as is probably the case in most communities in Alberta, we have a shortage of family physicians and general practitioners. What we see as a result of this is lengthy wait times at both walk-in clinics and the ER, since patients who cannot access care under a family physician resort to the ER to obtain medical care.

The province’s unresolved conflict with Alberta doctors is not going to improve the current situation. We need resolution and an agreement so that plans can be instituted for creating a system where everyone can access timely and thorough medical care.

Here I am with NDP leader, Brian Mason
after the presentations.

No comments:

Post a Comment