Last week, Paul Stanway (Premier Stelmach’s former Communications Director) blamed the opposition for the Alberta government’s failure to fix health care.
He was complaining about the traditional political parties and special interest groups who have staked their existence on evoking the privatization bogeyman in order to scare Albertans every time meaningful changes are proposed.
But the government itself is to blame. By continually capitulating to these critics, the government has become just as much a proponent of the status quo as the parties and groups Stanway blames for perpetuating the health-care mess.
Albertans are literally crying out for change. Our emergency rooms are overflowing. Albertans are waiting longer than ever for surgeries and specialists. Family doctors are becoming an endangered species. And our health-care bureaucracy is a budget-eating behemoth that sucks in billions with an ever-diminishing return.
Yet the established political class in Alberta either can’t or won’t move beyond the sideshow serve-and-volley act of private versus public health care, and the tired rhetoric that engulfs it.
The latest installment of this charade took place last week, when the Liberals released a government document that dared to make mention of private health care delivery.
Assuming the predictable righteous indignation, Liberal Leader David Swann said if the document was implemented, it would be “the end of public health care in Alberta and possibly Canada itself.”
Premier Ed Stelmach flatly denied any such plans. “I stand behind a publicly funded health-care system, and I’ll defend it to the very end,” he stated valiantly to thunderous applause from his caucus.
It’s stale political theatre that is costing lives. It’s time to put aside ideology and do what works.
As Stanway points out, and as Stelmach continues to deny, what will work for us is what’s already working in the social democracies of Europe.
Both our systems share a commitment to universality and are principally publicly funded. The big difference is in the delivery model - where Canada resembles Cuba and North Korea more than western Europe.
Because they do not cling to the idea that government-run institutions have to deliver health care, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium and Germany far surpass Alberta in virtually every measure of system effectiveness.
Some of these systems were collapsing under the weight of a bureaucracy utterly dependent on public facilities to treat patients. So they did the only thing they could do: They let the private sector in.
Countries like Sweden, where one in four health-care facilities are now privately run, have introduced a strong element of private delivery under the publicly funded model.
Now, those countries are able to treat more patients in less time and for less money. And nobody has to pull out their credit card to get medically necessary care.
This is the scary “two-tiered, European-style” health-care system Stelmach says his government would never consider.
The premier’s steadfast refusal to introduce changes to health-care delivery - instead choosing to pour more money into a broken, top-down system - leaves Albertans waiting for care.
Alberta Health Services - the superboard created in 2008 to run the province’s health-care system - gobbles up billions of dollars, funnels it through layers and layers of managers and administrators, and gives whatever little is left over to caring for patients.
The superboard must be dismantled and local control returned to hospital boards. We’ve also got to flip the funding model upside down to make sure patients are funded first.
Here’s where the European model comes in.
When you allow funding to follow the patient, you create competition. Public hospitals will compete alongside private facilities for patients looking for the best possible health care.
This funding model would see a dramatic shift toward treating patients as the true standard by which the system is measured.
As an added bonus, we can expect all of this at a lower cost to the taxpayer.
In Calgary, we’ve seen what private deliverers can do when the government gets them involved. Before AHS abruptly terminated their contract, the Health Resource Centre was performing hip and knee replacements at a fraction of the cost and in almost half the time as the public hospitals.
Former premier Ralph Klein, after leaving office, admitted his biggest regret during his 14 years as premier was caving to the special interest groups and letting them derail his plans to reform health care.
Clearly, Stelmach has learned nothing from his predecessor.
If this government won’t do what is needed, it is time for a government that will.
Danielle Smith is the leader of the Wildrose Alliance. She can be reached at [email protected]