Unions will have no choice but to bargain for health benefits if Maz report is implemented, says AFL

EDMONTON - If the Alberta government proceeds with changes to Medicare proposed today by the Mazankowski commission, businesses in the province will be saddled with new costs and the so-called "Alberta Advantage" will be seriously eroded, says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"The Premier and Mr. Mazankowski talk about the need to control spending," says Steel. "But this report isn't really about reducing costs - it's about transferring costs to individuals and businesses."

Steel points out that the current Medicare system acts as a huge competitive advantage for companies doing business in Alberta and other Canadian provinces. As a result of Canada's universal health care system, businesses here don't need to pay for private health insurance for their employees. This gives Canadian companies an advantage over their American competitors who see up to a third of their payroll budgets eaten up by insurance costs.

"The labour movement's first choice would be to maintain a fully-funded and comprehensive public health system that's there for all Canadians when they need it," says Steel.

"But - make no mistake. If the government de-lists health services, then unions will have no choice but to bargain for supplementary private insurance. This will almost certainly drive up costs for businesses in Alberta - and reduce our competitiveness. Is that the kind of legacy that Ralph Klein really wants to leave?"

In addition to his concerns about de-listing, Steel says he's also troubled by Mazankowski's emphasis on contracting more and more health services to the private sector.

"The evidence from here in Canada and around the world is clear," said Steel. "Whether it's American-style private health care or British-style contracting out, privatization doesn't work. It always leads to higher costs and reduced quality of care. Given the dismal record of private health care, I can't understand why the Alberta government insists on going down this road. They're allowing their ideological preferences to blind them to the weaknesses of private health care."

Steel concluded by criticizing the Council's recommendations involving things like user fees, medical savings accounts and treating health care costs as a taxable benefit.

"In all of these cases, the government is basically saying that Albertans should pay more for health care - on top of what they already pay in taxes and health care premiums. Once again, the people who will be hardest hit by these schemes will be the ones who can least afford it - the poor and the sick."

For further information, contact:

Les Steel, AFL President     @ (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 499-4135 (cell)

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