Plague of debates ravishes city

By Andrew Barbero

Round 1: U of C

When it comes to health-care in this province, the gloves are coming off.

On Tues. Mar. 28, the U of C was home to a forum on the proposed “Third Way” health-care reforms presented by the Alberta Global Forum, which is connected to the U of C’s faculty of communication and culture, and the Canada West Foundation. The issue proved contentious and a number of conflicting viewpoints emerged.

“I don’t believe that competitive markets are perfect, but I think they are always better than a government monopoly,” said Calgary Herald columnist Danielle Smith. “Governments can’t just sit back and say the status-quo is working because a judgement has been rendered upon it that it is not.”

Others say the proposed changes are too severe.

“This is a very audacious proposal,” said Friends of Medicare coordinator Harvey Voogd. “We’re not talking tinkering here, were talking about a very bold new direction. Albertans need to look very carefully at what is going here because we may evolve in a direction that we don’t really want to go.”

Voogd said often private healthcare costs more than public and is less efficient. He claims most employers will be unwilling to foot the bill for private insurance, leaving individuals to pay for their own care.

“We have a shortage of 1,000 physicians in Alberta,” he said,noting the creation of a second system will not affect capacity. “One system’s gain is another system’s loss.”

The forum went on to debate whether the reforms are needed. U of C economics professor Herb Emery suggested there could be multiple options.

“Is the third way ‘the’ answer or is it ‘an’ answer?” asked Emery. “If this is a revenue issue, there are other answers. What the government needs to sell Albertans on is that this is the best of the options we have available.”

“Alberta continues to spend non-renewable resource wealth to pay for current services and this is not a sustainable model,” he continued. “If we keep expanding health-care expenditures with diminishing resource revenues than were going to hit a wall at some point and its going to a matter of raising taxes, borrowing against the future or potentially cutting services back.”

The debate will continue Fri., Mar. 31 with the Last Chance Health Care Rally. Starting at 5:30 p.m. at Olympic Plaza, this non-partisan rally will feature several speakers and will take place right across the street from the Telus Convention Centre, where Ralph Klein is undergoing a leadership vote. This Friday marks the last day for public consultation on the issue.

Round 2: Foothills

Controversy erupts when Canadians hear anything resembling threats to their prized universal health-care, and a forum on the Klein’s so-called third way at the University of Calgary Medical School was no exception.

The forum, held on Mon., Mar. 27, came in response to the Alberta Government’s Feb. 28 announcement of a 10-point plan to reform health-care. The 10-point plan was criticised for being vague and viewed by some as an experiment with private health-care.

The forum’s panel included heavy-weights from both sides of the argument.

Nadeem Esmail is a health-care policy expert from the Fraser Institute, a Western Canadian and right-leaning policy think-tank.

“Canada’s health spending is two percentage points above the OECD average [in terms of GDP],” said Esmail. “We’re up almost 70 per cent in spending since 1995.”

Esmail said despite this staggering spending, Canadians still have poor access to health-care.

The proposed third way would allow Alberta to use what is known as a parallel health-care system, highlighted by Esmail as the standard used by countries like Sweden with the best performing health-care systems.

Dr. Avalon Roberts from the Friends of Medicare was sceptical of government plans to include private interests in Alberta health-care.

“What is going to be de-insured?” questioned Dr. Roberts, suggesting privatization may provide universal care only for services deemed to be necessary to sustain life, while other less pressing procedures could be left to the private sector.

There is also scepticism concerning issues of labour supply of health-care practitioners.

“A more private system will not address the numbers of health-care students we still need to import from other provinces and countries–this government needs to do more to educate our young people here,” said Dr. Roberts.

The issue of how a parallel system will affect health-care professionals was at the heart of the matter for Fabreau.

“The largest concern I have right now is that we already have such a human resource crunch as is, the parallel system proposed could poach manpower from the public system,” said Fabreau.

Labour economist Dr. Christopher Bruce agreed.

“An economist would expect that doctors would move from the public sector to the private sector–however, health professionals may not always move for self-interest,” said Bruce.

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