Friday, March 10, 2006

Iris Evans Canned Response to Health Care Challenge

The Minister has managed to give me a cut and paste of her news release but even so, it is something to dwell on. Still no details means they don't know what they can get away with. Light up their emails and phones!

Mr. John Clark
Dear Mr. Clark:
Thank you for your March 5, 2006 e-mail and letter. I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with information regarding the health care portion of your letter.

Our government is committed to ensuring a strong public health system while responding to the ever-changing needs of our citizens. We recognize the importance of sustainable, flexible and accessible health services for Albertans – regardless of their age, location or ability to pay.

Like you, I want a strong public health care system that will be there for my children and grandchildren in the years ahead. However, this may not be the reality if health care expenditures continue increasing as they are now. This is not a problem unique to Alberta. All provincial, territorial and federal governments have agreed the current health system is not financially sustainable into the future at the present rates of growth in annual cost.

In 2001, the report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health (known as the Mazankowski Report) said “that without fundamental changes in how we pay for health services, the current health system is not sustainable.” That was five years ago, but nothing has changed. Each year we spend more and more money on health care. In fact, Alberta’s health funding has more than doubled in the last 10 years. This year it is at $9 billion, which equates to $1 million every hour.

Despite these significant funding increases, the system still faces many challenges. People wait for months and even years for certain procedures. Demand for new services is increasing, and the costs of technology and pharmaceuticals keep growing. Across the country, provinces are realizing that there must be a better way.

The Third Way to health care renewal in Alberta was first discussed by Premier Klein over a year ago. We want to find a balance that is good for Alberta. This means keeping an open mind about good ideas and providing options to people with the health services that best address their needs, circumstances and preferences.

Our health care renewal proposals include a range of ideas to improve the public health care system – to make it stronger and better than it is today. This is something that everyone can agree needs to take place. The first phase of these ideas was introduced last July and includes everything from controlling spiraling drug costs and expanding primary care to encouraging wellness and making children’s health a top priority.

Over the coming months, we will continue to introduce options that will strengthen our health care system. Our actions will continue to be based on the fundamental commitment that a person's ability to pay will never determine access to needed health care services in Alberta.

To address Albertans’ desire for increased health care options, innovation may include looking at the role private health care service delivery can play. A strong public health care system will continue taking care of a patient’s needs. But allowing more options will help take care of a patient’s individual desires. I am confident the public system will be strengthened by allowing patients more choice.

Please note that private involvement in our public health care system is not new. Across Canada, a great deal of health care is delivered by the private sector. In Alberta, continuing care, laser eye surgery and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) are examples of health services that are currently available privately.

Another innovation is the possibility of how expanded private health insurance might play a role in Alberta. Private insurance in Alberta isn’t new. It already exists to some degree in Alberta Blue Cross, in insurance plans provided through employers and in insurance plans you can purchase privately.

The government realizes that in order to improve Albertans’ access to health care services and to sustain our current level of service, we need an increased supply of highly skilled and well-qualified health care providers. That is why one of the Third Way action areas is to ensure this supply. We are working with regional health authorities, professional and provider organizations, labour groups, training centres and community members to attract and retain the health professionals needed to provide high-quality care to Albertans.

Health care renewal proposals are focused on putting patients at the center of the health system. With health professionals working together more efficiently to decide what treatment would be best, patients will receive the highest-quality care. Health regions will collaborate more and compete less, which means less red tape in accessing the health services Albertans need.

Government is currently consulting with Albertans on the ideas and issues laid out in the Health Policy Framework. Please visit http://www.health.gov.ab.ca/ or call 310-4455 toll-free for more information and to provide feedback on our proposals. Copies of the Health Policy Framework are also being made available at public libraries and MLA constituency offices.

These consultations will provide information that will help us develop the legislation and associated regulations to be introduced over the coming months. A new legislative framework will enable us to move forward with initiatives that better reflect the current realities of health care delivery and emerging health technologies, while assuring Albertans they will continue to have a strong public health care system.

Our goal is to improve the health system while addressing the concerns many Albertans express with access and choice. Our health care system is complex. One single idea isn’t going to be the answer; only a combination of new ideas will help us find the right balance for Alberta.

Let me once again assure you that a person's ability to pay will never determine access to the health care services he or she needs in Alberta.
Thank you for writing.

Sincerely yours,
Iris Evans
Minister, Health and Wellness
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