The Alberta NDP critics for Health, and Mental Health and Addictions have called upon Alberta’s government to take action on health clinics requesting membership fees from Albertans.
Calgary Varsity MLA Luanne Metz, and Calgary Currie MLA Janet Eremenko spoke about against the potential for the practice on July 24, after it was alleged that a Calgary clinic had begun to ask for thousands in membership fees in exchange for full clinic access.
Janet Eremenko, MLA for the riding of Calgary-Currie, said that in the past week, she has received emails from her constituents that after seeing the same doctor, they are suddenly receiving emails requesting an annual fee payment of $4,000 or more in order to keep the same level of service.
“I’m just shocked to see these emails – and like many folks, I wondered if it was even legal,” said Eremenko.
LWC contacted the clinic but did not receive a confirmation they had made the membership payment request to patients alleged by the NDP.
In an email said to be from the clinic, and provided by the party, memberships fees are structured from $2,400 for a single patient to $4,800 for a two-patient family with dependants, with a $4,000 charge for two adults without children.
Province said they are committed to Canada Health Act
In an email to LWC, Scott Johnston, press secretary for the Minister of Health, said that the Government of Alberta is committed to following the Canada Health Act.
Johnson said that Albertans do not have to pay out of pocket for insured health services such as seeing a family doctor or a hospital visit, and that won’t change.
“Under the Canada Health Act, physicians can opt out of participating in the government’s health care insurance plan and once opted out, do not receive public funding—this is not new. There are only four physicians who have chosen to opt out in Alberta,” read Johnston’s email.
“We are aware of comparable practices in some other provinces.”
He said that the government will continue to examine these cases to ensure that physicians are following standards of practice set by their regulatory colleges.
Metz said that most practices are run by individual physicians. She said that when corporations take over clinics, they’re in it for the money and that is when fees are more likely to be charged.
“Why would a physician not do this? Because they don’t believe that this is the right way to go and it’s really their conscience that would say ‘I can’t do this, I’m providing care to my patients,’” said Metz.
Issues of bypassing the Canada Health Act raised
When addressing whether or not the implantation of membership fees is Legal, Metz said that there is the possibility that clinics that adopt the membership fee may bypass the Canada Health Act by offering appointments one day a week to non-members, making the argument that their health care services are still available to the public.
“This is giving preferred access to those who pay a fee, and while that might not clearly break the law, we all know that in real life that simply won’t work for people who need to see their family doctor right away on a regular basis,” said Metz.
Metz said that she faults the government for pushing doctors to feel the need to request membership fees from Albertans in order to pay their bills, and for allowing these fees to be charged.
She said that these fees run the risk of Albertans in need of primary health care ending up in emergency rooms rather than seeing their family doctor.
Metz pointed out a spike in emergency wait times at Peter Lougheed Hospital last night where wait times were up to 13 hours.
“Today I’m calling on Danielle Smith and Adriana Lagrange to tell Albertans whether they intend to do anything to stop these fears. Or whether they’re quite happy to see Albertans pay out of pocket to see their family doctor,” said Metz.