FOM:Albertans will pay for the UCP’s fiscally irresponsible political gimmick to quash public laboratory services

Lab Worker

Through media reports, Friends of Medicare learned that construction Alberta Health Services’ $590 million lab at the University of Alberta’s south campus has been put on hold until the new government has an opportunity to “review the project.”

Given that Premier-designate Jason Kenney has already indicated that he would reverse the building of a public laboratory, we know that ‘review’ is simply rhetoric for the ideologically driven privatization of an integral part of our health care system. “Even before the new government is sworn in, we see the first glimpse of what is to come,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

Previous attempts to privatize laboratory services consistently failed to provide Albertans with outcomes that would justify a move away from expanding and improving our public health care in favor of privatization. They failed to demonstrate that subsidizing private interests would result in Albertans being better served. They also failed to show that private, for-profit companies would help to make our health care system more integrated.

The privatization of Edmonton hospital labs was dictated by successive PC governments. It was not a decision based on upholding the public interest, but on serving private interests. In 2013 when the Redford government began their attempt to privatize lab services, they admitted that the change would not save money, yet they chose to ignore mounting evidence showing major problems with public-private partnerships (P3s). Subsequently, a multi-national company, Sonic Health Care, was awarded a lucrative hospital lab contract of $3 billion that would have seen it earn an initial projected gross revenue in excess of $200 million, all from our public health care dollars.

“The evidence clearly shows that contracts like this lead to decreased transparency and higher costs,” said Azocar. “Private, for-profit contracts remove the ability for the public to provide ongoing input, or to improve the system, and they minimize public oversight over the quality of our laboratory services. The priority of for-profit companies is to make money – money that should be going into better public services instead of being paid out to corporate shareholders.”

Once the NDP formed government in 2015, they made the decision to reverse the privatization of lab services, and end the costly experiments with privatization that previous governments had been conducting. Even without Alberta as a customer, in the 2018 financial year Sonic Healthcare reported a record net profit of $476 million on revenues of $5.54 billion – an increase of 11% in profit and 8% in revenues from the previous year. “Our Premier-designate’s proclamation that “Alberta is open for business” should not apply to health care – profiting from the poor health of Albertans is simply cruel. Health care is not a commodity that should be traded in the stock market.” states Azocar.

For years many Albertans, including front-line workers in laboratory services and pathologists, have opposed the privatization of laboratory services, and will continue to do so in the future. Friends of Medicare is calling on the incoming government to accept the overwhelming existing evidence against the privatization of lab services. Albertans need to be presented with an honest and transparent business case that will provide the basis for an informed decision. We will not accept attempts to privatize our health care based on political gimmicks. The direction of health care in Alberta should be determined not by ideology and corporate profits, but by how we can provide the best possible care to everyone.