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Alberta premier commits to medicare; NDP points to past musings on private options

Premier Danielle Smith, in an election-style event, says her United Conservative Party will not make Albertans pay out of pocket to see their family doctor or get medical treatment.

Premier Danielle Smith, in an election-style event, says her United Conservative Party will not make Albertans pay out of pocket to see their family doctor or get medical treatment.

Smith says her party, should it win next month’s general election, would also not delist from public funding any future medical procedures or prescriptions.

Smith made the announcement Tuesday in a party-sponsored event in front of a medical clinic in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton.

“Rest assured you will never use a credit card to pay for a public health-care service. You will only ever need your Alberta health-care card,” said Smith.

Smith said she was making this “Public Health Care Guarantee” to counter the Opposition NDP “lying” that she has plans to eventually make Albertans pay for some of their care or to see a family doctor.

“Liberal-NDP fear and smear politics don’t work in Alberta. Albertans have always seen through these lies for what they are,” said Smith.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said his party is simply reminding people of where Smith stands philosophically.

“Danielle Smith, in her own words, repeatedly said that she thinks Albertans should pay out of pocket for health care,” said Shepherd.

“She has said Albertans should pay to see the doctor. She has said that Albertans should have to pay a deductible if they have major surgery.

“As recently as last month, when we proposed that all Albertans have access to universal coverage for prescription birth control, Danielle Smith told Albertans to go buy private health insurance.”

Shepherd said if the NDP wins the election, it would launch a major health worker recruitment program and bring in reforms to pair more Albertans with a family doctor while not making people pay out of pocket for care.

The NDP points to a policy paper Smith wrote in June 2021 for the University of Calgary, before she re-entered politics, in which she wrote that health spending accounts would be a way to get public buy-in to discuss a new way of funding health care, including services currently paid for by the public purse.

“Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves, then we can change the conversation on health care,” Smith wrote at the time.

“Instead of asking what services will the government delist, we would instead be asking what services are paid for directly by government and what services are paid for out of your health spending account.”

She added: “My view is that the entire budget for general practitioners should be paid for from health spending accounts.”

Smith wrote that from health spending accounts, the government could then move to broader reforms like co-pays and deductibles based on income for things like surgeries.

From there could spring broader reforms like charter or private hospitals.

“The only option is to allow people to use more of their own money to pay their own way and use the power of innovation to deliver better services at a lower cost,” she wrote.

“I’m willing to bet most Albertans would be willing to pay up to $1,000 if it would reduce waiting times on vital treatments for themselves or a family member.”

The promise of health spending accounts was a core plank in Smith’s successful campaign to win the leadership of the United Conservative Party to become premier last fall.

She promised to give every Albertan $300 to start their own account. Her government would then give employers and individuals tax incentives to contribute more.

The fund was supposed to be reflected in the February budget but has been shelved as the government works out the logistics of the accounts.

The accounts would pay for a variety of non-medicare services, such as a chiropractor, naturopath, dentist or counsellor.

Pollsters say health care will be a key issue in the upcoming campaign, which is set to begin May 1, with voters going to the polls May 29.

Alberta’s health system, like others across Canada, faces staffing shortages, ambulance bottlenecks and long wait lists for some surgeries in the post-COVID era.