A legislative committee has voted a health care bill tabled by Richard Feehan, pictured, should not proceed.
A private member’s bill championing public health care in Alberta won’t make it to the floor of the legislature for a full debate after a committee voted to effectively kill it.Bill 203, an Act to Protect Public Health Care, would prohibit two-tier medicine, extra billing and any other form of private payment in relation to insured services. It would also ban queue jumping via cash payments. Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan tabled the private member’s bill on June 13.Last week the all-party committee listened to Feehan’s arguments for his bill and voted to hear from stakeholders.On Tuesday morning, Friends of Medicare and the Parkland Institute, a University of Alberta think tank, told the committee Bill 203 could potentially close loopholes in billing practices at private, member-only medical clinics, but UCP members were unconvinced.In a vote split down party lines, the six UCP committee members said the bill should not proceed to the legislature, while the four New Democrats urged to keep it moving.Due to quirky rules of the legislature, the vote means Bill 203 will go briefly to the house, but will not be fully debated.Billing, wait times focus of deliberationsTuesday’s debate was the latest in a long political conversation about the role of private health care in Alberta and questions of fairness.A 2013 report stemming from a multimillion-dollar inquiry promised by then-premier Alison Redford into preferential health-care access uncovered some cases of queue-jumping, but concluded improper preferential access was, at that point, a minor component of the public health-care system.The legislature’s standing committee on private member’s bills deliberated for around 40 minutes Tuesday, often circling back to private medical clinics and their billing practices.Citing a presentation by Parkland Institute executive director Ricardo Acuña, Edmonton-Whitemud NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi argued it was “very evident” billing problems in the health-care system need to be addressed.“Nobody is suggesting this bill will fix all the challenges in our health-care system,” she said, but Bill 203 would go a long way to closing loopholes and erasing grey areas in the law.Nathan Neudorf, UCP MLA for Lethbridge- East, countered that Bill 203 “attempts to fix a problem that may or may not actually exist.”His colleague Joseph Schow, MLA for Cardston-Siksika, agreed.“We’re talking about access to health care,” he said, pointing to rising wait times for various surgeries.“Does this bill help? At no point did I hear either presenter explain how this bill will do that.”United Conservative MLA Richard Gotfried, MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek, said the NDP had four years to institute the changes contained in Bill 203.The fact UCP MLAs used their numbers to effectively quash the bill at committee stage irked NDP committee members, who argued it should at least head to the legislature for a full firstname.lastname@example.org/EmmaLGraney