Alberta’s finance minister says he’s considering resurrecting health-care premiums to help the province pay for its revenue shortfall due to slumping oil prices.
Robin Campbell made the comments Wednesday while in Chestermere, east of Calgary.
“At the end of the day we’ll look at bringing in revenue that will go into the health-care system and Albertans will help pay for that,” he said.
He offered no projections on how much money could be collected if health-care premiums are reinstated, but did say he’s not in favour of returning to the old system where employers paid the premium.
“It will be based on per person,"he said. "I’m just not sure yet how we’ll bring it in."
The mere suggestion of bringing back health-care premiums worries Alberta’s NDP and Public Interest Alberta, a non-profit group that advocates on public issues.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley called it the “worst idea,” saying it “symbolizes how out of touch this government is with regular Albertans and how willing they are to make regular folks pay the price for their mistakes.”
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, estimates health-care premiums will cost the average Albertan $500 a year and the average family $1,000. He said the idea, if it goes ahead, will have a major impact on low and middle-income families.
“They're very regressive. They cost a lot to administer if you’re going to set up a separate system and at the end of the day there’s far better alternatives for this government in terms of having progressive tax and fair reasonable corporate taxes to help invest in our health care,” he said.
AMA calls for predictable funding
The idea being floated by the Alberta government is one that the president of the Alberta Medical Association recommended in December.
Dr. Richard Johnston called for a sustainable, predictable source of revenue adding the health-care system required stable funding.
Campbell said he also supports the return of health-care statements so that Albertans know the cost of health-care services they receive.
That cost is lost on most Albertans, said Herb Emery, director for health policy at University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. He applauded Campbell’s idea and said individuals, not employers, should pay so the regular Albertan understands the true cost of health care.
“This is a way of making it visible and overt to taxpayers just what health-care spending increases mean for the bottom line of your disposal income,” he said.
“I think it’s a great first step to dealing with health-care costs in the province and trying to ensure sustainability of the system.”
The government cancelled health premiums in 2009, which brought in about $1 billion each year, to make good on an election promise.
At the time premiums cost families $1,056 a year with single Albertans paying half the amount.