When the government of Alberta recently proposed its new drug plan, it emphasized the benefit to low-income seniors.
It neglected to point out, as many letters to the Advocate have, the greatly increased drug costs to a huge number of seniors.
The minister of health suggested that seniors having expensive drug costs as a result of this change could seek private insurance. He didn’t point out that private health plans cost a lot of money and that private insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Even more important is the fact that this new drug plan continues the Alberta government’s progress in eroding the public health care system. (Maybe this new drug plan is the start of The Fourth Way.)
By creating unequal coverage, this plan undermines the principal of universality in public health, which is key to our public health system.
With universality, poor and rich receive the same level of service. No one pays more, or can buy more, and no one gets less. This valuable system has been experiencing death by a thousand cuts.
Opposition politicians and the provincial government in Alberta have allowed this to happen, in spite of many words from them about good intentions.
For instance, there has been a total failure to stop the spread of privately owned clinics. (Some suggest that it is good to fund private clinics with pubic funds. But because they create more administration costs and have the need to generate high profits, private clinics are more expensive.)
Many important services that were previously covered publicly have gradually been delisted.
Governments wring hands and grumble about increased costs, costs that are often distorted and never explained (for example, increases in population). But while crying of a shortage of money, they cut taxes and also have the money for huge bailouts on short notice.
The money we get in tax breaks will not cover drug costs we may encounter or the price of private insurance, if we can qualify.
So, if we believed Jean Chretien when he said he would eliminate the GST, and Ralph Klein when he said that privatizing utilities would save us money, and Steven Harper when he said he would never run a deficit, we may be comforted when they tell us that they are protecting our public health-care system.
But public health care is dying a slow death by a thousand cuts. What they don’t tell us is that they are responsible for any shortcomings in the state of public health care.