© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the May 2006 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Industry Q&A: Renewal or reform?
The Alberta Government recently released proposed reforms to its healthcare system—with potentially serious cost implications for employers.
By Anna Sharratt
Iris Evans, Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness, Edmonton

Alberta’s new Health Policy Framework proposes a number of reforms aimed at increasing patient involvement, improving access to a variety of healthcare professionals and expanding system capacity. While public pressure prompted the Alberta government to back down on its two most controversial policy directions—the introduction of private health insurance for some healthcare services and allowing doctors to work in both the public and private systems—it still plans to proceed with the remaining reforms.

BC: Did last year’s Supreme Court decision in Chaoulli and Zeliotis vs. Quebec have any impact on the drafting of Alberta’s healthcare renewal plan?
IE: Not directly. We have known for some time that healthcare in its current form is unsustainable. We need to start looking at new ways of doing things—ways that will improve access and choice and provide the right balance for Albertans. While Chaoulli has no direct implications [for] Alberta, it did provide a wake-up call for healthcare services across the country, and supports the need for change.

BC: Will there be a greater onus on employers to pick up healthcare costs in the future?
IE: Offloading of health costs to employers or individuals is not the intention. We have no plans to delist any of the services currently provided. Employers may choose to pick up more healthcare costs as part of their recruitment, retention or negotiation strategies. We plan to make Alberta’s public health system more sustainable by improving its efficiency and by using resources more appropriately.

BC: What do you say to employers who are picking up more than their fair share of health costs?
IE: Employers recognize that maintaining the health of their workforce is a sound business strategy in the long run. Employee health benefit plans play an important role in workforce recruitment and retention and contribute to staff satisfaction and loyalty.

BC: Are there benefits for employers under this system?
IE: The health renewal plan will improve the health of all Albertans. Employers will benefit from a healthier workforce.

BC: Will health professionals play new roles under your proposed plan?
IE: The intention is to expand the scope of practice of various health professionals so that their time and skills are used in the most efficient and effective way. We expect this will relieve physicians of some of their workload and free up some of their time for more complex cases. Overall, we believe that team-based multidisciplinary care will result in better health outcomes for every dollar spent.

BC: Could a change in government affect the health renewal plan?
IE: No. The need for effective strategies that strengthen the healthcare system and make it more sustainable in the long run will be required regardless who leads the government. The proposed changes and improvements are not politically driven but are designed to respond to the challenges faced by all health jurisdictions.

BC: Will the healthcare renewal plan have ramifications for other provinces?
IE: We expect that innovations and new approaches which prove themselves successful in Alberta will be studied by other provinces. All provinces are interested in learning from each other about how to improve service delivery while maintaining a strong public health system.

Anna Sharratt is managing editor of BENEFITS CANADA. anna.sharratt@bencancir.