Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fee Fine Fo Fum at the ASC 

Bill Rice, chairman of the Alberta Securities Commission was recently fined $1,000 for being a couple of months late in disclosing the insider trades he made in the shares of Tesco Corp., a well-drilling company he was also chair of until the beginning of November. You can read all about it by clicking here.

ASC spokeswoman Siobhan Vinish announced it this way. "He was assessed a late-filing fee, to be paid to the Ontario Securities Commission, which collects such payments,"

Bill makes about $700,000 a year at the ASC. When you make that much I guess in this province you don't pay fines; you pay fees. Makes it sound more like buying an annual pass to the national parks.

Good job Ms. Vinish. Good job Mr. Rice.

I feel better now about the ASC.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Klein's "Third Way" Fallacy 

This letter appeared in the Edmonton Journal November 28th. The author is Noel Somerville who is Co-Vice-Chair of the Seniors Action Liason Team.

Thank you for printing Paul Krugman’s article, “U.S. health insurance system fails nation,” (Journal, November 17).

It beautifully illustrates the fallacy of Premier Klein’s assertion that there is a viable “third way”, a two-tier system that combines public and private insurance for health care.

As Krugman points out, private insurers are not interested in providing universal comprehensive health care coverage. Their business is making money, which they do by providing limited and often partial coverage to selected individuals for specified risks.

In order to make profit, they have to avoid risk. Accordingly they decline those with pre-existing conditions or indicators of high future expense. The aged, the infirm, and those with any life-style or genetic pre-disposition to injury or disease need not apply.

Even the private, employer-sponsored group health care plans survive only by virtue of the massive tax subsidy provided by the tax-free status of premiums. Under this system, the 50% of Albertans who don’t have access to employer-sponsored group plans (farmers, small independent businesses, seniors and the poor) will be taxed to support those who do.

Despite the Premier’s claims, the “third way” will not reduce health care costs; it will increase them because of the loss of economies of scale in our single-payer system. It won’t reduce wait lists except for the wealthy healthy. It won’t increase choice because it will be the insurance provider that decides what procedure they are prepared to cover, and where.

Finally, the “third way” will be a major blow to Canada’s resource and manufacturing sectors. They will lose the competitive edge over their American counterparts resulting from the much lower costs of our publicly insured medical system.

Noel Somerville

Friday, November 25, 2005

Klein's Loch Ness Monster is Ugly, Immoral - & Stupid 

Stupid? You ask. Aren’t Alberta’s MLAs intelligent and educated?

Well, yes, but since humans arrived on earth, doing stupid things has never been confined to those of low IQ and poor education. Stupid is when intelligent men turn a blind eye to warning signs and dive into waters that suck them under and countless others with them.

Want to see stupid? Think what’s happening to the supposedly smartest nation in the world after plunging into Iraq without a plan for getting out.

When the head of Klein’s health care monster was exposed to the public recently (press release by Liberal party’s health critic) it revealed a sales campaign designed to plunge Alberta headlong into the murky waters of market place medicine. His cohorts deny it, of course, but you’d have to have been lost in the jungles of Guatemala for the last ten years not to know a blueprint for another of Klein’s propagandizing programs.

This latest sales pitch emerges against the backdrop of another of Klein’s media-invented dangerous dragons. He has been repeating the word “unsustainable” like a mantra just as he did the word “deficit” until he seems actually to believe his own distortions of reality. To defeat this “unsustainable” dragon he is trying to create the optical illusion of himself riding out on his “privatizing” monster to rescue us from the very waiting lists and crammed emergency rooms and horribly understaffed hospitals that his government itself has created. No warning signs, no evidence that privatization has sucked other countries into troubled waters far worse than the ones he’s helped create, seems to keep him from planning to plunge this whole province into waters where we will have lost any ability to keep from drowning in a whirlpool of insurance confusion and control by corporate medicine.

And, if that’s not stupid what is?

Submitted by Sandy

Previous comments from Sandy on this issue can be seen here and here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Long Term Care - Alberta Style 

Have a look at this. If you have trouble reading what the billboard says click on the picture to enlarge it.

Pretty much says it all about long term care in Alberta.

Make sure you visit the Alberta Government Response page.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Preston's War on Medicare 

This article by the Toronto Star's National Affairs writer Thomas Walkom provides an insight into the strategies used by those that want to trash our public health system.

Walkom describes the goings-on at the two day Saving Medicare Healthcare Summit recently held in Vancouver. The cost to attend the conference was $1100 + which pretty much guarantees that ordinary citizens will be excluded.

The entire article is disturbing. Particularly disturbing were strategies put forth by Preston Manning, someone whose views I usually didn't agree with but who I thought presented them fairly. I won't ever be labouring under that illusion again. The following are Walkom's words describing Manning's recommendations. An example of Preston "Thinking Big" we assume.

Reform party founder Preston Manning advises the crowd to present their ideas as a compromise. Canadians, he says, love compromises. But up to now, proponents of two-tier health care have been painted as extremists. The solution is to rearrange the terms of reference so that what appears moderate today is redefined as extreme and what appears extreme is recast as moderate.

Manning's strategy, borrowing from the terminology coined by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, is to define two-tier medicine as the "third option." In this lexicon, the current Canadian system is redefined as one extreme and the U.S. system as another. A two-tier system similar to that of, say, Britain is then presented as the middle way.

Once the battle over language has been won, Manning says, it will be politically easier to follow his substantive prescription: Completely dismantle national medicare, have the federal government hand over more taxing power to the provinces and let them handle health as they please.

However, he continues, politicians — even conservatives — will not deliver this vision on their own. Politicians fear voters and the voters like medicare. So, the politicians must be pushed.

The way to do this is by creating a powerful, single-issue movement, independent of political parties, to lobby the public during an election campaign. This will involve money and organizers. Interest groups who want more private medicine will have to unite and hire an experienced campaign team, replete with fundraisers and pollsters. They will have to choose the most vulnerable targets (he suggests Quebec as a start). They will have to find the best spokespeople.

Here Manning suggests that anti-medicare forces find appropriate victims whose stories will appeal to the media.

Preston doesn't seem quite the elder statesman I thought him to be. His disrespect for the intelligence of the Canadian public is particularly disturbing.

His Daddy Ernest Manning fought tooth and nail against public health care back in the 1960s when he was Premier of Alberta but he ultimately failed. Perhaps Preston feels compelled to do what his Daddy couldn't.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Klein's Choice 

Premier Klein theory of governing is to provide people choices. The word "choice" is sprinkled liberally throughout his speeches and “giving Albertans choice” is the justification for the many privatization initiatives his government has undertaken over the years. Better to choose your electricity from either Enmax at 8.10¢/kilowatthour or Direct Energy at 8.05¢/kilowatthour rather than have electricity foisted on you by a government regulated utility at 5.90¢/kilowatthour. We seem to buy that logic here in Alberta. I guess it’s the maverick in us.

Announcing his 12 step plan for health care reform last July the Premier said "It's time to move from ideas to action. It's time to offer people choice. It's time to take the shackles off the health authorities, open up the system, and see what works and what doesn't." Inspiring words. But the concern that most Albertans have is that the healthcare choices may end up like the electricity deregulation choices; costing each of us a bundle out of our own pockets.

So what's with the picture of the people in the Santa Claus outfits?

Well that's our supreme court. Their decision in the Chaoulli case is what the Premier holds up as the main driver for implementing private health insurance in this province. But the decision really gave all the provinces two choices. (There’s that word again). To quote a bullet from Alberta Health’s leaked PowerPoint presentation:

"Supreme Court said prohibition on private health insurance was unjustified when public system fails to deliver reasonable service." So what Klein is saying is that because Alberta Health fails to deliver reasonable service we have to allow private health insurance in the Province.

Well Mr. Premier. Looks to me like the Supreme Court has offered you two choices:

  1. Open up the Province to private health insurance companies – the preferred option of your government


  2. Deliver reasonable health service to your citizens – the preferred option of the opposition party in this Province and every other government in the country.
Admittedly many other governments in the country, while they would like to provide reasonable health services to their citizens, are struggling to come up with the money to do it. What’s your excuse when you are struggling with an $8.7 billion surplus this year alone?

If the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party truly feels that government cannot provide reasonable health services to its citizens, then perhaps the citizens of Alberta should elect a party that does.

Now that's a choice that makes sense.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Naughty Songs Upset Premier 

Here's a news item to make Albertan's proud of our Premier. It was just reported on CJAD radio in Montreal, just as Mr. Klein is heading East next week to promote our Province. Click here to read all about it but here's the nub of it.

Remember the “Official Alberta Song” contest? Turns out 335 songs were submitted for our 100th birthday celebrations. The winner was Mary Kieftenbeld and you can listen to her song by clicking here.

Nice song – nice event. Good for you Mr. Klein.

Now one of the contestants, Richard Clark, would like to see the rest of the songs. He just wants to see what his fellow Albertan songwriters wrote. After all, he's one of them.

Oops. Big problemo for Tory government. Turns out some of the submissions were satirical. What a shocking thing to do during our 100th birthday party. The buzz around the Tory caucus was that many of the songs may have been “communist inspired”.

What’s a poor government to do? After initially denying any request to see the entries they finally relented after a freedom of information act request was filed. But just to discourage busybodies like Richard they decided to charge $918 to check out the tunes. Richard presumedly declined unless he is a much richer songwriter than any I know.

Well we’re used to this small-time, petty, hick, paranoiac government stupidity here in Alberta. It's part of what binds us together in this fair Province. But our Premier is heading East where he is going to try and sell Alberta to a large part of Canada. Like it or not citizens, he represents all Albertans to the rest of the country. It is hard to imagine anyone down there taking him or Alberta very seriously when he runs this Province like Mississippi was run in the 1930’s.

Our Premier will return and still won't understand why no one else in the country understands us. Guess you have to live here a while to understand.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Klein's Loch Ness Monster - Immoral as well as Ugly 

As we see more than just the ugly head of the mostly hidden monster undermining health care in Alberta, it becomes clear that it’s not only ugly, it is also immoral.

Immoral, you say, isn’t that a bit strong?

Well think about it. The moral foundations of Canada’s Health Care system were laid well before there was this Canada Health Act. Klein is chipping away at the legal protection of health care like a teen age kid trying to break down his parent’s resistance to letting him do something stupid with the family car.

But the issue is not merely legal, it is fundamentally moral. The two moral principles followed by Tommy Douglas and his fellow leaders were:
  1. No family should be driven into deprivation and crippled from debt by the long illness and death of a loved one.

  2. No person, within society should be prevented from access to medical treatment due to lack of funds or fear of indebtedness.

The only way those two moral values could become real in society was to draw on the social conscience of society and have medical services paid for from a single source, the state itself. On the basis of these moral and social values health care in Canada was elevated to the level of priority and value that it deserves. Klein’s third way monster is getting ready to launch a public sales campaign, propagandizing that we, the citizens of Alberta are not “entitled” to the health resources we are already paying the government to provide.

This monster in its ugly little head believes that, by buying the services of an insurance broker (A.K.A. AON Consulting), it will be able to sell us the idea that our families and loved ones will be better cared for by the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Market Place. Just this summer, didn’t we find out how well it works when long term care facilities are sold to private operators in the market place? Seniors lying for hours unattended? Vulnerable elderly being charged extra for a a bath or medicine that health care once paid for?

So how does selling health care to private insurers do anything for those whose resources and money are exhausted by long term illness? Or those who simply can’t pay for preventive or rehabilitation treatment? Private insurers never have and never will insure any one for anything for which they will not make money. The privatization monster will leave those who can’t pay to go without treatment and some to die in poverty.

And that, is IMMORAL.

Submitted by Sandy.

Previous comments from Sandy on this issue can be seen here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Health Economics 101 

Premier Klein, Health Minister Iris Evans, and everyone else who is involved in setting health care policy in Alberta need to read this article. It is called Health Economics 101 and it is written by US economist and New York Times writer Paul Krugman (see photo). Click here to read this short but to-the-point critique of private health insurance.

What makes Krugman unique is he explains why private health insurance doesn’t work. Most others in this debate just state their position either pro or con, point to a study or two to back up their position, and leave it at that.

Krugman's case against private insurance boils down to three things; risk, selection, and social justice. Have a look at his article and then see how it relates to Alberta and Premier Klein’s Third Way initiatives

Risk – In the US a mere 5% of people account for half the total medical costs. It is likely the same story in Alberta; Albertans are pretty much the same as Americans when it comes to medical problems. If you’re part of the lucky 95% you probably don’t have many concerns. If you are part of the unlucky 5%, your medical expenses will be crushing unless your government provides for you, or you are very wealthy, or you have good private insurance. The problem is that you don’t choose to be in the 5% group; it just happens. It is the risk we all have foisted on us by life and that risk increases as we get older. Premier Klein’s chosen solution for this risk problem is to provide private insurance and minimize what the government needs to provide.

Selection – Private insurance companies are in business to turn a profit, as it should be for any private company. This means they try to maximize the premiums and minimize the payouts. The main way they accomplish this is by choosing only healthy people as clients and/or charging higher rates for those that are less healthy. This screening process unfortunately adds substantially to their administrative costs; costs which must be reflected in the premiums. Will the Alberta government have to set up an expensive new bureaucracy like the AIRB for auto insurance to try and ride herd on the health insurance companies or will they just give them a free reign?

Social justice – What does the government do when sickness or injury visit those who don’t have insurance either because they can’t afford it or no one would sell it to them because of their pre-existing conditions. Well they don’t let them die. Instead they will have to set up some sort of welfare healthcare system like Medicaid in the US and this is going to cost money. In addition another expensive bureaucracy will be needed to weed out potential abusers and administer means testing.

As Krugman concludes, the free market never worked for health insurance and never has. You have to ask yourself why the Klein government continues their relentless journey down this track. Is it free market ideology? Lobbying pressure from the health insurance companies? Simple pig-headedness?

I wish we knew. One thing is for certain. It is going to cost us a lot more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lest We Forget 

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Is the THIRD WAY a good idea? 

Consider these key questions…

Premier Klein has talked about his THIRD WAY for some time but has avoided any specific explanation of what he means.

The specifics of what the THIRD WAY may mean emerged from the Request for Proposals (RFP) that the Alberta government recently sent out to the insurance industry.

This RFP is alarming and raise a number of important questions.

Why is the Alberta government inviting the insurance industry to re-design our health care system?
The stated objectives of the RFP are:

There is nothing in the RFP that limits the scope to non-emergency services. The RFP reveals that the real purpose is to transfer some of the costs of providing universal & comprehensive coverage for medically necessary services from government to the people who require those services. Insurance corporations have been provided with reams of confidential and valuable information on how our system currently operates. They have been asked to outline what should be covered, who should be covered and at what cost.

The big problem is that the private insurance industry is not in the business of providing universal, comprehensive and accessible healthcare coverage. Their business is providing limited and often partial coverage to selected individuals or groups for specified risks. They don’t compete to reduce costs or to be more efficient but rather to avoid risk. Job One for these companies is maximizing profit for their shareholders.

Will private insurance reduce healthcare costs?
While the government’s share of healthcare costs may go down, the total cost of healthcare services will increase for several reasons:

a) The inevitable bureaucracy of a multi-payer system. Legions of bean counters will be required to track every service and box of tissue so that it can be billed to the appropriate insurer.

b) Private insurance companies have to set premiums not only to cover costs and profit, but also to build in a cushion for risk. The result is the situation that exists in the USA where the growing cost of health care premiums has brought companies like General Motors to the brink of bankruptcy, and fifty million Americans find that they are either ineligible for healthcare coverage or can’t afford the premiums.

Will wait lists get shorter?
No, because those on wait lists all have a pre-existing condition. Under standard insurance industry practice, they will either be ineligible for coverage or, if they are part of a group plan, will face a long wait period before coverage kicks in.

Wait lists will also get much longer for those who don’t have or can’t afford the coverage required to jump the queue.

Will private insurance increase choice?
For the answer to this, look again to the United States where everyone except the aged and the indigent has to rely on private insurance.

Those who do have insurance soon discover that “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” They find themselves told by their insurance provider what procedures they may have and where they must have those procedures.

Who will be hardest hit by private insurance?
The people hardest hit by a move to private healthcare insurance will be 50% of Albertans who don’t have access to employer subsidized group plans. This will include farmers, small independent businesses, senior citizens and the poor.

The adverse effects will also be most severe on those who make most use of the healthcare system: infants up to one year of age, women in their child-bearing years, and seniors.

The resource and manufacturing sector will also lose the competitive advantage that they now enjoy over their American counterparts because of the much lower costs of Canada’s public healthcare system.

Can we try it and abandon it if it doesn’t work?
The Canada Health Act (CHA) set up a public healthcare insurance plan that, as a purely public service, is shielded from private competition under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

However, under the terms of NAFTA, if even one Canadian private insurance company is allowed to move into the area of medically necessary services covered under the CHA, there is no way of stopping HMOs or other healthcare insurance companies from the USA or Mexico from moving into Canada. If we try to stop them, all these prospective competitors may sue Canada for loss of potential profits. It is rather like scrambling an egg: easy to do but impossible to undo.

What is driving the push for the THIRD WAY?
The THIRD WAY mix of public and private insurance and delivery of healthcare is certainly not in the public interest. At best, it is driven by ideology rather than reason: at worst, it is driven by greed.

The latter concern was heightened when the result of the RFP was announced. The government awarded Aon Canada a $1.5-million contract to develop an Alberta model for private healthcare insurance.

Aon Consulting of Canada faces six charges filed by the Ontario Financial Services Commission. Its American parent company, the second largest insurance brokerage in the USA, has been forced to pay out $190-million US to settle anti-competitive practice and fraud allegations brought on behalf of clients in three states.

Is this who we want re-designing our healthcare system?

Get on the phone to Iris Evans and Ralph Klein and let them know what you think.
Premier Klein’s Office ( 427-2251)
Hon. Iris Evans: ( 427-3665)
Toll Free connections to Alberta Government can be made through: 310-0000.

This analysis of Premier Klein's Third Way was submitted by the Seniors Action Liaison Team

Klein's Loch Ness Monster Raises It's Ugly Head 

The most secretive government in the history of Alberta has suddenly had its hidden strategy for undermining Health Care exposed.

Only those who still believe the world is flat should be surprised to see the emergence of a corporate outfit called AON Consulting as the gang hired to tell the Klein government what it wants its corporate backers to hear. When the tobacco industry wanted to keep selling a product that may well have destroyed the health of more people than any other single addiction, they hired “researchers” to “prove” that smoking is a harmless habit.Not until countless people died of lung cancer, suffered with heart/lung disease or burned themselves up in bed did governments face reality and start controlling the sale of a harmful drug.

Turns out, however, that AON, the outfit chosen to tell Klein’s corporate backers how innocent and harmless private insurance is, is just one more cold corporation that is being charged with using highly questionable methods for serving themselves rather than those who need medical services. Klein says Albertans don’t care if AON’s a crooked outfit. Does he mean we wouldn’t care if there’ were a cellar full of rats eating away at the supplies in our basements or a pack of gophers and moles threatening the very foundations of our homes?

Of course we care, don’t we,? Especially when there’s a leak from the inner sanctum of Klein’s holy of holies where the true believers gather to plot strategy for the takeover of Medicare by US type insurers.

Yup, folks we’ve seen the head of Klein’s privatization monster and she ain’t pretty.

Submitted by Sandy

This was sent in from a concerned Ralph's World reader.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Preparation HealthCare 

Today spin doctors at the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau moved quickly to ease Albertan’s fears about Third Way Health Care initiatives being proposed by the Klein government.

The move came after the Alberta Liberal Opposition obtained secret government documents outlining an agenda to violate the Canada Health Act and allow doctors to practise in both the public and private system. The documents also called for a high powered campaign to sell the idea to Albertan’s that they need to pay more out of their own pocket for health care. See related stories here and here.

Bureau spokesperson Grace Perogee confirmed that in light of the documents leaked today, that the marketing campaign scheduled for launch in February would be begin immediately. “It’s has been in the can for about a year and a half now and we have just been waiting for the right political climate to inflict it on the public” she said. “Looks like that time is now” she added.

With that Ms. Perogee unveiled the new theme for the campaign entitled “Preparation HealthCare”.

“We have already stockpiled three million boxes of “Alberta Advantage” suppositories. One box will be sent out with each $400 prosperity dividend cheque. The special formulation, designed by the crack medical staff (no pun intended) at Alberta Health, should bring quick relief to our citizens from any anxieties caused by the introduction of private health insurance."

She went on to say that initial clinical trials show the suppositories to also be effective in providing relief from other government-inflicted privatization initiatives such as out-of-control electricity, natural gas, and auto insurance prices.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Aon Affair 

Last May Alberta Health hosted an international symposium at a hefty cost to Alberta tax payers. It’s purpose was to provide answers about how Alberta should proceed with Premier Klein’s “Third Way” initiatives. The answers provided by the symposium did not fit with the government’s view of what the answers should be. Speaker after speaker provided evidence of increased healthcare costs if further privatization schemes were implemented.

What’s a poor right wing government to do.

Well you go out and hire a consulting firm and pay them a bunch of money. In this case the consulting firm was Aon Consulting and the bunch of money was $1.5 million. You can be pretty sure that the folks at Aon know what answers the government wants and they are pleased to provide them. They didn’t become a multi-billion dollar company by being stupid. The Aon people also know that winning this contract will give them a leg up on the next phase - the implementation of a private insurance scheme for Albertans. It just so happens that Aon Consulting, the group performing the Alberta Health contract, is a small part of Aon Corporation. The big part is Aon Insurance Brokerage Services, providers of private health insurance. These are the people who will reap the real gold from Alberta's citizens.

Health Minister Iris Evans and Premier Klein have decided to support Aon Corporation and keep their contract with them despite Aon’s recent transgressions of fraud, anti-competitive behavior, and overstatement of company pension assets. Their loyalty to Aon Corporation is admirable but possibly misplaced.

Ms. Evans and Mr. Klein would do well to read this article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. It's title is Pride, Prejudice, Insurance and here's a quote.

Why does American medicine cost so much yet achieve so little? Unlike other advanced countries, we treat access to health care as a privilege rather than a right. And this attitude turns out to be inefficient as well as cruel.

Then they need to do some serious re-thinking about The Third Way and the roll of corporations like Aon in our fair province of Alberta.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Aon is A-OK with Klein Government 

Dateline Edmonton - RW Newswire

The wide-eyed look on the face of Alberta's Premier Ralph Klein, (shown here on the left), came about after the Premier keyed the words “Aon corruption” into a Google search box.

The occasion was a press conference called to explain why the Chicago-based consulting firm Aon Corporation was hired by Alberta Health to consult on Third Way initiatives in spite of the fact that they had just been forced to pay $190 million to settle a fraudulent "pay to play" scheme in the US. Under the scheme insurer's had to pay kickbacks to Aon in order to receive business. Click here and here for details.

Earlier Alberta Liberal Opposition leader Kevin Taft had said "You wonder why the government did not do a simple Google search on the words Aon and corruption and discover what they were getting into". In order to prove to Albertans that he is just as computer-savvy as Taft, Klein actually entered the search into a computer under the watchful eyes of Alberta Health Minister Iris Evans. The eye-popping expression came as he discovered that the search yielded over 32,000 hits.

Try the search yourself by clicking here.

After the Premier was removed from the room Alberta Health spokesperson Grace Perogee said that kickbacks were never a serious consideration in the acceptance of Aon as Alberta's Third Way consultant. She did however agree that donations to the Progressive Conservative Party are always acceptable.

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