When Canada’s premiers meet in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday of this week, Don Mazankowski’s recent report on the reform of Alberta’s health is sure to be on the agenda.
You might remember Mazankowski from the Conservative Mulroney government when it was tossed out in 1993. Mazankowski left politics to join numerous corporate boards, including Gulf Canada.
In the Alberta context, the report’s recommendations are expected – – including an expanded role for private health care delivery. What is not in this report speaks volumes.
Mazankowski proposes an “expert panel” to study health care services to decide what should be covered and what should not. Not a bad idea on the surface, since most would agree that our health care can no longer afford to be everything to everyone.
What he doesn’t say is who should sit on that panel. It matters. An expert panel made up of businessmen, like Mazankowski, would come up with a different list of services to be delisted than a panel made up of doctors. I would trust health care professionals but not corporate leaders to make that difficult choice.
Mazankowski has been accused of a conflict of interest, since he is a member of the board of Great-West Lifeco Inc., which owns an insurance company. But, you see, it’s only a conflict of interest if you consider the general public as being the beneficiaries of a public health care system. If you consider that businessmen, like Mazankowski, are to be the beneficiaries of health care then there is no conflict of interest at all.
Another recommendation of the report is blending private and public health care in one system, to encourage more “choice, competition and accountability.” But Mazankowski doesn’t suggest just how such a blended system would work.
And when I hear “choice, competition and accountability” as desirable qualities in any public service, I know the speaker means “privatization, inefficiency, and corporate profits.”
An efficient, effective health care system is what we already have. “Universal, publically funded, provides better health care as measured by any outcomes – – lower infant mortality, greater life expectancy, for example,” says Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians. “The cost of Canada’s health care is one-half that of the U.S. and all are covered,” he continued.
In the U.S., 15 per cent have no coverage at all. Health care consumers, otherwise known as patients, primarily want treatment that’s available when they need it. They want effective health care that’s delivered in a timely fashion at a reasonable cost.
We don’t have health care delivered in a timely fashion. You don’t have to look further than the federal government for the reason why. Health care has been damaged through underfunding.
But it can be mended. What Mazankowski’s report doesn’t say is that as soon as the door to health care if opened to privatization, it’s subject to Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. That would allow the U.S. to purchase our health care services and make it more profits driven.
As a member of the Mulroney government that wrote NAFTA, Mazankowski knows this well. His failure to mention this opening to U.S. competition is a deceptive omission.
The Mazankowski report is a convenient diversion for Campbell’s B.C. Liberal government. While the spotlight is on Alberta, Campbell is quietly encouraging the diversion of public health resources for private use. For example, CT machines at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital are being run after hours for anyone who can afford $1,000.
Why aren’t publicly funded hospital diagnostic machines being run 24 hours a day to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for their use?
“It’s a monopoly system basically. There’s no competition,” complains Jim Neilson about public health care. Neilson is the former B.C. Health Minister for the Socred government. Translation: not enough money is flowing into my privately owned MRI clinic in Richmond. With Campbell’s government filled with ex-Socreds, I’m sure that Neilson’s words ring true in many right wing heads.
Premier Campbell has made it clear that he is prepared to cut deeply and hastily into public service. Look for him to be nodding in agreement at the Mazankowski report and filling in his own solutions where it is silent.