Canadian Officials Joust over Health Reform

April 20, 2004 ( - Canadians should pay for health care services in proportion to their usage and their ability to pay, Alberta Health Minister Gary Mar now says.

In some of his bluntest remarks on the topic to date, Mar exposed the chasm between Alberta’s position on health reform and that of Prime Minister Paul Martin, Canadian Press reported. “One of the core issues is the whole issue of patient participation in the financing of the health care system,” Mar said, after addressing a conference on health care reform.

Alberta wants enough flexibility in interpreting the Canada Health Act to allow some form of patient payment, saying that it could involve asking patients to buy supplementary insurance for non-core services.

Mar’s views contrasted sharply with those of Michael Decter, chairman of the National Health Council. Decter said Canada has a good basic plan for reform in the first ministers’ accord negotiated by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien in February 2003.

Under that accord, first ministers agreed to ensure timely access to care, provide 24-7 access to doctors and nurses, cover catastrophic drug costs, set up a national home care program and provide accountability for health spending.

Quoting a study by the Conference Board of Canada, Mar said it would take an additional $5 billion annually to maintain existing services.