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Private or public health care? An ongoing debate back in Alberta

Last Updated Oct 19, 2020 at 6:36 pm MST

CALGARY (CityNews) – A narrow vote supporting a private health care system, operating parallel to a public system, has reignighted the two-tier debate in Alberta.

“Technology changes, economic circumstances change. In the case of healthcare, demographics change, societal concerns change,” explained Trevor Tombe, Associate Professor of economics at the University of Calgary.

“A lot of times, healthy sensible debate is shut down by people who use that word: ‘private’.”

Critics argue, “There isn’t really a lot of evidence on the other side showing it would have any benefit,” explained Lorian Hardcastle, Associate Professor in faculty of law at the University of Calgary.

“I do have a concern that money and time will be spilled on reanalyzing, relitigating an issue for which there’s already quite a bit of evidence.”

The province already has several privately-funded services from dental, vision and massage therapy.

“Do we increase privatization by inserting it into places where it currently is not? And secondly, if there are these concerns with privatization, then should we take some of these services that are privately-funded and pull them under the Medicare umbrella?” asked Hardcastle.

Others argue you can’t run two properly funded systems.

“Does the existence of private schools necessarily mean public schools are of lower quality? Some would say yes but I would counter that we can chose to fund and design public education system that ensures they are high quality even in presence of private education,” said Tombe.

In September, B.C.’s Supreme Court shot down a constitutional challenge which may have opened the door to a two-tiered health care system– a decision applauded by the federal government.

“The B.C. government was actually defending its limits on private finance, in this case what we’re looking at is different of course because it would be the government not having those limits on private finance,” Hardcastle explained.

While the debate of a two-tier system resurfaces, the discussion on whether we should even be discussing a two-tier system will also go on.