A healthcare plan designed to fail

PV Alberta Bureau 

The Danielle Smith government’s plan to ditch Alberta Health Services and create four different agencies to replace it is absurd, self-contradictory and obviously just plain stupid. That is, if you assume that the goal is to provide good health care to Albertans. Once you take into account the Conservatives’ decades-long campaign to reverse and destroy Medicare to provide profit opportunities to the private sector, it makes perfect sense.

Medicare was only instituted in Alberta because of bribery by the federal government. With the Medical Care Act of 1968, the 50 percent of costs offered from federal funds for hospitals and doctor visits were just too generous to resist. But the government’s lukewarm acceptance of a public system soon cooled: Friends of Medicare was organized in 1979 in response to double billing which was being allowed to erode the system, and has been kept busy ever since defending Medicare from one attack after another.

Provincial government hostility ramped up with Ralph Klein, who inaugurated his 1993 government with all-out attacks on hospital workers and nurses, slashing wages and privatizing services. By the era of Jason Kenney, this attack was extended to doctors, with the resulting shortage of doctors and curtailment of services.

In 2019 Ernst & Young received a $2 million contract to create a report saying just what the government wanted to hear. They recommended privatizing long-term care facilities, downgrading the level of care to be provided and removing registered nurses from seniors’ care facilities; privatizing more tertiary services such as food, laundry and housekeeping; and outsourcing or privatizing lab services, a move which was carried out and became such a colossal failure that the government was forced to backtrack and cancel the contract.

Whenever their consistent hostility to labour and their misuse of funds has resulted in a crisis in healthcare too big to ignore, the Conservative government of the day has responded by reorganizing the bureaucracy. The current Alberta Health Services agency was created to replace a set of regional boards which previously replaced hundreds of local hospital boards, and now AHS is the focus of government blame-shifting. To resolve the alleged problem of an overly bureaucratic top-down administration, the provincial government proposes to create four new bureaucracies – each with its own board, administration and overt political interference – with the power to privatize services.

These four agencies are supposed to operate, not in different regions, but in different aspects of health service delivery, separating primary care, emergency services, long-term care and mental health services into separate silos. This will not be helpful to anybody, as people never require only one narrow service at a time.

The real goal of this clumsy and expensive plan – which will not add a single nurse, doctor or lab tech but will cost an estimated $85 million just for administrative re-organization – is privatization of our medical system for profit. As Chris Gallaway, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare has said, “You break it, and then you privatize it. You create chaos and then propose private contracts as a solution to that chaos.”

Alberta Communist Party leader Naomi Rankin told PV that a radically different strategy is urgently needed to defend, preserve and expand healthcare in Alberta.

“We need to entice more healthcare professionals back into the province and make those professions more appealing to students who are considering their job options,” she said. “A key step here is for the government to negotiate decent pay and working conditions for all public workers, as well as a reasonable payment schedule for doctors.” She says that this can and should be done in a way that emphasizes preventive health services.

Rankin also insists that action needs to be taken to confront and reverse privatization of health services. “All private for-profit contractors should be replaced with direct government departments or not-for-profit unionized agencies, and all long-term care facilities must be brought into the public, not-for-profit system. Surely, if we learned anything from the COVID crisis, it’s that private and for-profit long-term care is a deadly disaster waiting to happen. In addition to LTC, there are other areas of healthcare that are currently private, and which must be brought into Medicare. First among these are pharmacare and dental care, which need to be part of the public system and fully funded.”

As for the source of full funding, Rankin says the Communist Party advocates a diametrically different approach from capitalist parties.

“Last year was the most profitable year in the history of Canada’s oilpatch, the bulk of which is right here in Alberta. In 2022, oil and gas corporations raked in around $120 billion in profits, and this year they expect to make at least $80 billion. This is reflective of a general spike in corporate profits, at the same time that working people have to fight hard to get wage increases that match – or even come close to – the soaring cost of living.

“So, when people ask where the money for Medicare is? Raise oil and gas royalties and tax corporate profits to fully fund all necessary health services!”

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