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article imageCanadian ''health war'' takes new turn with private clinics

By Tilman Streif     Jul 11, 2000 in Lifestyle
Ottawa (dpa) - Medical care in Canada's state-run hospitals is financed by tax
money - at least this is the system which Canadians have known for
But now, new laws in a single province are paving the way for the introduction
of private clinics, for Canada a revolutionary concept.
This has opened a new front in a years-long dispute which newspapers have
dubbed the "health war".
Since the 1960s, the country's 30 million people have been kept healthy on
state money. Doctors were paid their fees by the health ministries of the
individual provinces. Depending on the region, their patients often did not
have to pay for new teeth, glasses or medicines.
But over the past ten years, the national government in Ottawa has been
providing less and less money for the health care system. This has led to major
bottlenecks in medical services. Now the province of Alberta is trying to find
a way out of the problem, permitting private clinics to take on patients who
have been put on the long waiting lists of the hopelessly overcrowded state-run
The general cutbacks in the health care budget has resulted, in recent years,
to one particularly obvious poor state of affairs in the Canadian system: a
chronic shortage of hospital beds. These have been reduced by almost one-third
since 1990.
As a result, many hospitals had to ask their patients, even those urgently
needing an operation, to wait for months. Alberta, by permitting licences for
private clinics, hopes to improve the situation.
But in doing so, it has drawn the ire not only of Ottawa but also of the many
proponents of the existing system. The Canadian government is angered by the
fact that Alberta aims to pay the private clinics from the state health care
In addition, opinion surveys show that a majority of Alberta's citizens regard
the new plan as one which would undermine the state medical care system.
Despite regular strikes staged by state hospital employees and even though the
most talented doctors leave Canada for better-paid positions in the United
States, the Canadians want to maintain their state system.
Opponents staged angry protests outside the parliament building in the Alberta
capital of Edmonton to show their disapproval of the private clinic
legislation. During the parliamentary vote in May which ended in favour of the
private clinics concept, demonstrators carried signs saying "Our health is not
for sale".
But what really angered both the proponents as well as opponents of the under-
financed state health care system was Ottawa's reaction to Alberta's action.
The province is to be kept under surveillance by the nation's capital, and sued
if found to be in violation of federal laws.
Although the state system's coffers are virtually empty, somehow Health
Minister Allan Rock managed to find four million Canadian dollars (2.8 million
U.S. dollars) for the surveillance effort.
More about Clinics, Hospitals, Taxes, Canada