by David J. Climenhaga
Will the Alberta Medical Association learn any useful lessons from Doug Horner’s health care policy, which the Progressive Conservative leadership candidate announced yesterday morning?
Well, that likely depends on whether Mr. Horner becomes the leader of the Conservatives and the premier of Alberta – something the political bookmakers may say the odds are against, but which is well within the realm of possibility.
The lesson for the AMA, just in case it turns out to be important, would be that you’re probably not smart to be too overt in your support for one particular candidate in a political leadership contest because there’s always the possibility another one might win. And then where will you be?
Alert readers will recall how back in June AMA President Dr. Patrick White appeared to endorse frontrunner Gary Mar’s candidacy by using the physicians’ association’s private email list to invite its 10,000 members to sit in on “a town hall conversation with Gary Mar from the comfort of your home.” After a few days of controversy, Dr. White’s endorsement or whatever it was appeared to drop off the provincial political radar screen. But did it?
Now, none of this is to predict that Mr. Horner, the Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert MLA, will win and become premier, or that Mr. Mar, who is generally acknowledged to still be the frontrunner in the race that goes to its first ballot on Sept. 17, will not.
Nevertheless, as a former deputy premier and senior cabinet minister with plenty of support inside and outside the Conservative caucus, Mr. Horner is a credible candidate who could very well emerge victorious. Failing that, he could also end up with plenty of clout in the cabinet of whoever does win if he happens to make a deal that benefits the ultimate winner of the ABM (Anybody But Mar) campaign that appears to be starting to gel.
In fact, it’s widely thought that all candidates in the race other than Mr. Mar are busy plotting such deals right and left – and that Mr. Mar is focusing his efforts on winning on the first ballot on the theory that if it goes to a second one, his campaign could be in for a Jim Dinning-style drubbing. (And wouldn’t that be ironic, seeing as Mr. Mar seems to be backed by exactly the same cast of characters as that which supported Mr. Dinning, who was the frontrunner back in 2006. Mr. Dinning, of course, was defeated by Ed Stelmach in classic “up the middle” style on the second ballot.)
So, if Mr. Horner were in fact to emerge the winner, he might very well come to the conclusion that he didn’t owe a darned thing to the leaders of the medical association – which at the moment is Alberta’s most powerful trade union!
Indeed, looking at the health care policy that Mr. Horner published yesterday, it might almost seem that this is already so. At any rate, the document published on Mr. Horner’s website contains two interesting policies that are not certain to delight the physicians’ union:
Point 3: “Collaborating with stakeholders to minimize unnecessary residency requirements for foreign-trained doctors. Establish equivalency programs with non-Albertan medical schools to recognize training conducted outside our province and country.” Well, there goes the monopoly!
Point 4: “Enabling health care professionals to practice to the full scope of their training and keep pace with innovations already practiced by several health care disciplines. Enable direct payment from the publicly funded system for their services.” This means, for example, allowing nurses and pharmacists to do some of the work now exclusively done by physicians, and get paid the same way.
In his document, which the Alberta media bizarrely and irresponsibly chose to almost completely ignore, Mr. Horner also suggests allowing physicians to deliver some services over the Internet or the telephone and still be able to bill (interesting), and opening the door a little wider to private insurance (troubling).
From a cursory reading of this document, which only CTV seems to have covered as a website brief, it would be easy to conclude that Mr. Horner has decided there’s not much point in worrying about what the doctors think of him, seeing as it appears they’ve already made up their collective mind.
So if he does win, we will have to conclude that the AMA may have contracted a case of political avian flu, the sort of thing that can happen when humans with medical degrees live in proximity to chickens that are coming home to roost.
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