Critics fear 'radical reform' of health-care system


Two advocacy groups say the proposed Alberta Health Act will be a piece of "shell legislation" that will give politicians the power to privatize health care without any public debate.

Friends of Medicare and the Alberta Federation of Labour say the province is planning to overhaul health laws so the important parts are in the regulations, not in the law itself. Regulations can be changed by ministers at any time, behind closed doors, while laws must be debated in the public forum of the legislature.

"Albertans spoke out loud and clear during the spring and summer; they wanted their public health system improved, not dismantled," said David Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare.

"We believe the Alberta Health Act has national implications, making a piece of shell legislation that can attack the fundamental principles of the protection of health care in each of the provinces of this country."

Eggen said his organization, along with the Alberta Federation of Labour, will launch a campaign to persuade Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky to move away from this kind of "enabling legislation" and "blaze his own trail" in health care by improving the current system to give Albertans better health care.

Zwozdesky said his critics are misleading the public.

"People should wait until they see the act when it is introduced in the legislature before they start scaring people with misleading information," he said. "It's time for that to stop."

He said the government has listened to Albertans, who say they want meaningful involvement in a publicly funded universal healthcare system, along with a health charter and a health advocate.

"Let me be perfectly clear -- we are not privatizing health care. The premier has made that clear. I have made that clear."

Asked if the new law would open the door to privatized care, he said "absolutely not."

The organizations have obtained a legal opinion that says the proposed changes to the health act are "not consistent with a democratic society."

Lawyer Gwen Gray said that contrary to popular belief, protection against the privatization of health care is contained in provincial laws, not the federal Canada Health Act. As a result, she said that a promise to abide by the Canada Health Act doesn't guarantee the province won't legalize private health care.

"The Canada Health Act guarantees the existence of a public healthcare system for all Canadians. It is silent on whether there is a parallel private system for the wealthy that can be purchased, with private insurance, from doctors who opt-out of the public system," she wrote in the four-page summary.

"It is the Alberta laws that make a private health-care market impossible, and it is those laws the Minister's Advisory Committee on Health is proposing to change."

AFL president Gil McGowan said Albertans should be concerned that the province's health laws are about to undergo radical reform.

"Consolidation of existing legislation under a new Alberta Health Act is far from mere administrative housekeeping. It has the potential to be something much closer to radical reform.

"The kind of reform envisioned by the former minister, Ron Liepert, and the advisory committee, could dramatically undermine the ability of Albertans to have a say in the shape of their health-care system."

Edmonton Journal, Wed Oct 13 2010
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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