Party platforms lay out clear choice for future of Alberta health care

The platforms of the two major parties competing for power in Alberta are out – and the picture they paint of the future of our health system could not be any more clear.

Whether you look at the amount of money the two parties are prepared to invest in health care or the role that for-profit corporations play, including the future of the new public laboratory for Edmonton and northern Alberta, the UCP and NDP and worlds apart.

Jason Kenney and the UCP platform proposes a freeze on government spending. On health-care, Kenney has said he will maintain (freeze) spending at current levels. The only possibility for an increase is from savings he can make in administrative costs and efficiencies.

With the independent Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) research showing that Alberta has the lowest administrative expenses in Canada, the room for savings will be minimal at best. Alberta spends 3.3 per cent of its health budget on administrative expenses, compared to the national average of 4.5 per cent.

The UCP freeze will see spending stagnate, while the predicted population growth and inflation will increase costs by 14.6 per cent over the next four years. This is why a spending freeze is the same as a cut in real terms, because inflation means everything costs more and population growth means demands for services grow.

The NDP has promised stable funding for health care, with increases totalling 12.7 per cent over the next four years. This does not match predicted population growth and inflation, but comes close and follows the pattern the NDP government has set for the last four years.

In dollar terms, the difference between the two plans is nearly $3 billion. Let’s repeat that for clarity: The UCP would spend $2.805 billion less on health care over four years than the NDP.

In terms of people, the vision offered by the UCP is just as bleak. Conservative estimates show that the population of Alberta will grow by nearly 290,000 in four years. It’s the equivalent of having the communities of Red Deer, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray combined without providing any money to care for the people who live there.

With zero increase in funding from the UCP, existing health-care professionals like you will have to deal with the health-care needs of all those people without any more resources. Imagine the pressure that will fall on you to do more with less, to see your patients wait longer for care or to accept years more of wage freezes or cuts or worsening workplace conditions.

Each of the parties has made a number of pledges in different areas of health care. However, the fact is that these pledges will cost money. The UCP four-year spending freeze will put pressure on those promises.

Meanwhile, it’s estimated that the UCP plan to slash corporate taxes from 12 per cent to eight per cent over the next four years will cost more than $2 billion, enough to pay for a couple of new hospitals. If the tax cuts do not trickle down to boost the economy and government revenue, as has been the case wherever it’s been tried, it is likely to lead to harsher austerity and deeper cuts. A similar approach in B.C. led to a drop in revenue if up to $10 billion.

An important part of any plan is to “show me the money.” It’s clear from their platforms that the NDP is prepared to find money for health care, while the UCP says Albertans needing compassion and care will have to wait until the economy improves. As Jason Kenney’s says on his Unite Alberta Twitter account: “We understand that in order to be a compassionate, caring province, we must be prosperous first.”

Patients cannot wait until the price of oil increases or until a pipeline is built. They need care now.

The parties also differ on the role private, for-profit corporations will play in health care. The NDP will strengthen regulations governing private clinics to prevent them from charging patients extra for procedures covered by medicare and to unfair queue-jumping by patients who can afford to pay more. The NDP says it will prevent costly and reckless privatization experiments.

HSAA has members who work in for-profit, not-for-profit and publicly-delivered health care and is rightly proud of the work they do. However, for-profit care puts the corporate bottom line ahead of patient needs or employee needs. Every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that is diverted from patients.

The UCP favours privatization and has already announced that it will cancel the building of the new lab that Edmonton and northern Alberta desperately needs and hand those operations over to for-profit care. It will also contract out laundry services, despite legitimate concerns over how that will work.

This election, vote like your health care depends on it. Because it does.