Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Ralph on Health

Ralph Klein has signalled his willingness to go with a private parallel system of care. I like what he says right at the end: "The Alberta government is moving swiftly to remove those barriers to accessing health care, not just because it is a legal requirement, but because it is a moral responsibility."

Today's Toronto Star prints his op-ed:

Alberta moving ahead on private health care Supreme Court ruling shows that province has a moral responsibility to act, says Ralph Klein

A few years ago, a man from Quebec asked a very sensible question: "Why can't I buy the health care I need when I am in pain?" It was a question many defenders of the status quo didn't want him to ask and, indeed, fought him every step of the way as his question meandered through Canada's justice system.

Last month, Canada's Supreme Court answered his question. They said, in effect, if you are in pain or suffering, and your right to a healthy life is in jeopardy, you should be able to buy the health care you need and prohibitions on doing so violate your fundamental rights as a Canadian.

In rendering its judgment, the Supreme Court also took special care to demolish the myths that the defenders of the status quo have been telling Canadians for years. The people resistant to change in Canada's health-care system have maintained for years that an increase in the choice Canadians have in getting their health care would destroy our health-care system.

Said the court: "for each threat mentioned, no study was produced ..." And further "witnesses ... should be able to cite specific facts in support of their conclusions." Finally, "The experts ... do not appear to be very convincing."

In other words, the hollow rhetoric and pointless scaremongering are over.

An Alberta Justice analysis of the court's decision found: "The evidence demonstrates that a monopoly is not necessary β€” or even related β€” to the provision of quality public health care." Case closed.

So, with the myths destroyed, where do we go from here? That is what the 62 Progressive Conservative members of the legislature met to debate recently in Edmonton.

There can be little doubt that the Supreme Court decision has forever changed our ealth-care landscape. The challenge is to embrace the change β€” not to run from it β€”and look at the ruling as an opportunity, not a threat.

Let me be blunt. We have unacceptable waiting lists in our publicly funded, rationed health-care system, and all the money in the world is not going to eliminate them.

We spend more than $9 billion a year in Alberta on health care, and it increases year after year, and the waiting lists remain. Rationing creates waiting lists, whether it is bread, gasoline or health care. The answer is not more money; the answer is more choice.

Choice can be found in a supplementary insurance plan to privately fund non-emergency medical services, with the exception of mental health and clinical psychology.

In simple terms, it means that if you are in pain or suffering and cannot wait in line, you should be able to buy the health care you need.

The Supreme Court has ruled that governments cannot deny you this right. Not jump the line, but move out of the line. Move out of the publicly funded health-care system and into an expanded parallel system that has more capacity to end your pain and suffering, but to do so at your own cost.

After all, our outstanding public education system works in tandem with a parallel private education system, and we have the smartest kids in Canada. The publicly funded health-care system will always be there for those who need quality health care when they need it, but it will operate under far less pressure, and will be a better system because of it.

(Alberta) Minister of Health and Wellness Iris Evans and her outstanding team are working on the details, but the premise is simple: You have a constitutional right to be, and stay, healthy.

As the court so aptly noted, access to a waiting list is not access to health care.

I know change is not easy. But I also know the status quo can be far more dangerous. My government has often not agreed with the rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada, but we have accepted them and adapted to whatever changes they created. So it is with health care.

The Supreme Court has confirmed that the delivery of health care is a provincial responsibility and that barriers to access, whatever they may be, deny Canadians a fundamental right.

The Alberta government is moving swiftly to remove those barriers to accessing health care, not just because it is a legal requirement, but because it is a moral responsibility.

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