Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Third Way - Reprise

Reflecting on the comments that I've seen about Klein's "Third Way" and my own thoughts and impressions of the so-called Mazankowski Report, there's a lot to consider when looking at the topic of health care reform.

The first thought that comes to mind is the overwhelming lack of success we have experienced in Alberta with privatizing and/or deregulating a wide range of industries.


Vehicle Registrations - this is all handled by private companies now. It doesn't sound too bad, until you start to realize that we are paying increasing fees for this service(?), meanwhile, we have no transparency or accountability from the registration companies. For example, although their computer systems are linked to Alberta Gov't systems, how do I know that the owners aren't "skimming" data off onto their own servers?

Electrical Deregulation - Along with the botched deregulation of the Natural Gas industry in this province, we have seen ever increasing costs, degrading service levels. On top of that the companies selling "contracts" are doing so with exit clauses that are so obviously weighted against the consumer that it would actually negatively impact the ability of some people to move. Instead of an industry motivated to move towards wind generation, I wind up having to pay a premium on my bill to encourage these clowns to make the right investments...

Natural Gas Deregulation - Another of Klein's pet projects. One that has backfired repeatedly - whether it has been skyrocketing gas prices (when there was no real crisis), Ralph bribing the population with "rebates" on the royalty taxes that the government rakes in as the prices rattle out of control.

Education Restructuring - In the early 1990s, Ralph's crew of hack-and-slash budget manglers not only took away the funding needed for the school systems, they seized control over the property taxes which school boards used as a primary funding system. Since then, we have seen the emergence of so-called "Charter Schools" - which are little more than private-interest schools funded by the taxpayer; "follow-me" funding based on where the student is attending, and a steady death-by-starvation of the public and Catholic school boards in the large cities. Ralph and Co. have deliberately starved the public system so that it cannot possibly succeed, thus opening the gates for incubated privatization - at taxpayer's expense, and to the detriment of those at the lower income brackets.

Now, we have Ralph's team wanting to apply the same blind dogma of privatization to health care in this province. It doesn't sound unreasonable at first - why shouldn't someone who can afford it be able to "upgrade" their treatment? (After all, they are paying the cost of the upgrade, right?) Well, that option already exists - the border between Canada and the United States is pretty open, and if you want to purchase "Cadillac Treatment", you're quite free to do so.

However, the underlying assumption of the Mazankowski report, and Ralph's government in general is the notion that "private enterprise" is inherently "more efficient" than public enterprise. In many respects, there are few areas of commerce where public enterprise is actually beneficial. However, Health Care is not a "consumer product".

The first thing that makes me nervous about the privatization bandwagon is the lack of regulatory transparency. We just had an incident where a website setup by the local laboratory services company was showing incorrect data. Who winds up shouldering the burden - the taxpayer via the regional health authority which has to contact all of the affected doctors so they can check with their patients. The website is a good idea - but how secure is it? Who knows - I don't, and I doubt that few people would even be aware of such a site existing, much less the risks involved.

Then we hit the brick wall of profits. Private companies exist for one reason - to make money. They aren't charities; their shareholders put money into the company for one reason alone - to make more than they put in. From a cost efficiency standpoint, private enterprise wants to maximize revenues, and minimize their outlay. In a services domain like Health, that means that ultimately, we pay more for less service so that the investors get their Shakespearean "pound of flesh".

If there was ever an area where private enterprise's involvement must be carefully monitored and managed - it is health care. Not only does the track record of "corporate health providers" in the United States echo this, the disastrous results of other "deregulation and privatization" efforts in Alberta are a red flag that we cannot ignore.

This is not to say that there is no merit in some of what is being proposed, but rather that the public must look upon these proposals with caution and skepticism. The track record of the Klein government has been one of poorly planned, and disastrously executed changes. I see no signs that this endeavor will in fact be any improvement.

The consequences for all of us could be our lives and health - literally.


Anonymous said...


Pure Vitrol!

More please?

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.