Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Alberta Health Minister seeks quick reforms

Don Braid wrote in “New health minister all straight talk and action”, (Calgary Herald, Mar.14, 2008):

"Just before Christmas, Ron Liepert told me he believes health care is a looming mega-problem that will soon dwarf all others -- royalties, housing, labour, the works.
Liepert figured he was having a pretty easy time as education minister, announcing new schools and seeking a pension deal with the teachers.
The guy didn't have a clue he'd be health minister within three months.
Now he is, and Alberta is going to get a full dose of Ron Liepert. It's strong medicine. Liepert is a forceful guy who will say exactly what he's thinking.
That hasn't changed since I first knew him nearly 30 years ago when he was in the legislature as a TV reporter.
He startled everybody one day in 1980 by taking a job as Premier Peter Lougheed's press secretary.
Some reporters didn't like it when he went over the wall to the premier's office; but as time passed, I never saw evidence that he either gave a damn or held a grudge.
Liepert was good at his job. He and Lougheed developed a bad cop, good cop routine that kept reporters off balance. Not much escaped from the legislature if they wanted it to stay under wraps.
Today, Liepert remains impervious to media or opposition criticism. He only cares what his boss thinks and what the public thinks.
As education minister, for instance, Liepert calculated that the people who wanted new schools in their communities didn't care if they were built as P3s.
So he plunged in where other ministers feared to tread, braving the opposition blast. He might have saved thousands of Calgary votes for his party in the March 3 election.
Even before Liepert was sworn in Thursday, he was shaking up the health-care debate, alluding to the Mazankowski report and raising fears of privatization that are likely overblown.
But he's been doing that for months. One reason Premier Ed Stelmach gave him the job, he told me Thursday, "is that I kept saying health care was a big problem so he asked me if I wanted the chance to do something about it."
Other ministers are more reticent. They won't even get their mandate letters from Stelmach until next week. Nobody's going to say much until the premier tells them what to do -- except Liepert.
He and Stelmach have already talked. Their basic goal is to squeeze more value out of the system while improving access for patients.
This doesn't mean overall spending cuts, or even a halt to spending hikes. Stelmach knows those goals are impossible with a population that's both growing and aging.
Liepert and Stelmach both said Thursday that private health measures aren't a big part of their thinking. The premier, in one of his more striking phrases, pledged that Ralph Klein's old Third Way plan, whatever it meant, is dead on arrival.
Like Stelmach, Liepert is no right-wing idealogue. But he won't rule out the possibility of some private elements to the solutions he comes up with.
"We already have plenty of private things in the system," he says. "This doesn't mean I want an American-style private system, though -- absolutely not."
Liepert will shake up health care, no doubt about that. He'll try to re-establish central control and strive to make the regions accountable for spending. There will be tough reforms aimed at improving access and efficiency.
Most of all, he's going to drive the agenda at warp speed, without any more studies or commissions.
During the uproar that's coming, Liepert will be Ed Stelmach's heat shield.
He'll take all the blasts himself without ever losing a night's sleep; it's his old talent, employed at a somewhat higher level.”


It’s good to see the sensible Mazankowski Report being talked about again. Here’s hoping that Liepert and Stelmach can find and deliver results for Alberta, and maybe set a model for the rest of Canada.

However, they should also keep in mind that their great plans for any real reform have to take into account the concept of health-care competition, not more heavy-handed centralized health-care monopolization.

People should know and trust that government will not lower their coverage, while also increasing their taxes at the same time, as Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberals have done since 2004.

Government has to take its paternalistic hand out of the health-care consumer's pocket - and keep it out. If the state introduces more competition through privatization (how else will it occur?), it cannot correspondingly maintain its previous tax structure as well!

While people need time to get weaned off their long forced dependence on the government-monopoly-medicare model, government will also have to wean itself off of its dependence as the sole clearing-house of our health-care cash.

Giving up their tax-fix is anathema to many good-intentioned governments.

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