The Friends of Medicare and the CBC have declared that Premier Klein's "Third Way" will lead to the destruction of the government's health care monopoly. But in fact, Alberta's 12 "renewal initiatives" consist mostly of reorganizing bureaucracy and throwing more tax dollars at a system which lacks incentives for efficiency.
Reminiscent of the Soviet Union's five-year "plans" of days gone by, Alberta plans to announce a new "Health Services Plan," not to be confused with the new "Public Health Strategic Plan," the "Provincial Research Strategy" or the new "Health Policy Framework." No doubt this will keep Alberta's 1,378 health bureaucrats busy as they decide how to spend nine billion provincial tax dollars each year.
As part of its intention to "get serious about wellness," Albertans will be bombarded with even more government advertising to "encourage" people to stay healthy, like the "new strategy" against sexually transmitted diseases. How any of these new "plans" and "strategies" are different from the old ones is unclear. But the spin doctors want Albertans to feel confident that better health care is on its way soon.
None of the new plans and strategies address health care's fundamental problem: patients who are unhappy with the quality or timeliness of treatment have no recourse but to continue enduring the government's monopoly. People suffering - and sometimes dying - on waiting lists have no alternative but to continue waiting and suffering. Politicians love using the word "accountability" but, practically speaking, there is no accountability when a unionized monopoly receives billions of tax dollars regardless of performance. Where is the accountability when a patient dies on a waiting list, or suffers irreparable harm to her body that would not have happened if she had been treated immediately
Canada should learn from the 29 countries which, according to the World Health Organization, have better public health care systems than we do. The countries on this long list, which include France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Portugal, Greece, Morocco, Australia, Japan and Singapore, allow parallel private health care systems to co-exist alongside the public system. Not only does this take pressure off of the public system, but it respects the individual's freedom to spend her own money on her own health care.
But here in Canada - as in Cuba and North Korea - we are legally prohibited from spending our own after-tax dollars to buy better health care, and better health insurance, for ourselves and our loved ones. We can spend our money on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography, jewelry, vacations . . . but not health care. We can spend thousands of dollars on the health of our dog or cat, but not on our child or grandchild.
Premier Klein's "Third Way" still leaves in place Alberta's ban on the sale of private medical insurance for services provided by the government's monopoly. It's a ban similar to Quebec's law which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down last month with its Chaoulli decision. Perhaps some day, people will be able to make their own decisions about their own money, their own health, their own health care, and their own health insurance. But Alberta has a long ways to go before it catches up with Quebec and B.C. in allowing a parallel private system to compliment the public one. And Canada has a long ways to go if it wants a rank better than 30th.