Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Healthcare Premiums on their way out?

It seems likely.

Premier Stelmach is musing about the move publicly
and it seems unlikely that he would raise hopes about axing a regressive tax loathed by 80% of Albertans and condemned across the political spectrum only to dash them just in time to be smacked around for it during an election campaign.

As Don Braid points out in the Herald today, a lot of the people making the sniffily condescending argument that the premiums should stay because 'people need to know health care has a cost' are ivory tower conservative academics who get their premiums covered by their schools. And whether you're a struggling young family straining to make ends meet or a professional right winger getting a six figure retainer from the Fraser Institute you're paying the same amount. Except that the higher the income the more likely your company includes paying it in your benefits.

This is the dictionary definition of an unfair regressive tax.

It doesn't even go to health care! If every penny collected was dedicated to upgrading hospitals, adding beds and recruiting and retaining health care professionals -- it would still be an unfair regressive tax, but at least it wouldn't be going into general revenues to be spent on expensed three martini lunches for cabinet ministers.

The so called Alberta advantage is predicated on a supposedly low tax bill for Albertans - invariably the Tories fail to include the health care tax (It's a premium see, not a tax.) in their calculations of the Alberta tax burden. Include the premium tax, include it's disproportionate effect on lower income Albertans and the Alberta Advantage frays considerably.

There are also many lower income Albertans who have fallen drastically behind on their premiums to the point of defaulting on them completely for years. Many of them are too terrified to seek needed medical attention for fear that it will be refused because of it. In fact no one can be refused health care for not paying their premiums but a lot of people don't know that and let health care problems that could be effectively treated with preventative care degrade to conditions requiring much more expensive emergency room care.

Which brings us to the other health care news of the week: US researchers report long waiting lists in American emergency rooms.

But how can this be? The Fraser Institute and our elected officials tell us endlessly that the solution to our own waiting lists here in Canada is ever more private sector involvement in the health care system. But in the most private sector health care system in the world they have dangerously long waiting lists too. Waiting lists furthermore, that are longer based on income and race and concentrated in expensive and dangerous emergency care because of lack of primary and preventative care. In fact many American hospitals are closing ERs because of how expensive they are.

So in other words the people pushing the idea of taking even more resources away from the public system and putting them towards ill advised private sector flirtations are risking damaging the public system and the health of Canadians - and it won't even help with the wait list red herring they are using to justify such moves.

Ever get the feeling these people think that we are complete fucking morons?

1 comment:

Jennifer Smith said...

Here in Ontario we also have a Health Care Premium, introduced (or actually re-introduced) by the McGuinty government a few years back. However, ours is progressive in that it's a sliding scale based on income. If your taxable income is less than $20,000 you pay nothing, and the highest you can pay is $900.

I'm old enough to actually remember paying an OHIP premium back in the 80s (as I recall it was about $200 on my minimum-wage income), so I don't have any particular objections to this one. Especially since I don't make enough money to have to pay it :)

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