Physicians & blood plasma next on Alberta’s public vs. private health care agenda

Since being elected a year ago, Alberta’s NDP government has been persistent in trying to assure the private sector that not only is it not anti-business, but also that it is pro-business. For example, in her April, 2016 “Address to Albertans,” Premier Rachael Notley said, “And to our partners, the private sector jobs creators of Alberta.”

Well, the chickens will soon be coming home to roost in Alberta’s health care sector, with implications for the government’s transparency and reputation.

Last August Health Minister Sarah Hoffman kiboshed a 15-year contract with an Australian company to provide laboratory services for Edmonton and northern Alberta. In doing so, the government did not demonstrate how this would benefit patients or taxpayers, i.e., a much anticipated report from the Health Quality Council of Alberta offered no data and no empirical evidence the public sector was the superior choice in either delivery or cost-effectiveness.

In its failure to do so, the government offered no comparatives with which the private sector could use to make its case. While not ruling out the private sector, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman was nuanced and less than lukewarm.

“In particular, if private sector companies are interested in being partners on the potential delivery of some services, they will need to demonstrate that there is a benefit to Albertans to do so, through providing more efficient or effective service,” Hoffman said. “That’s the same standard we have our private sector partners across government.”

Two other issues are on the Alberta public vs. private agenda for health care.

[1] Physicians are, for the most part, paid for services provided under the government’s Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. Most, however are in the private sector; they are employers, not employees; and, they are not unionized. Most have professional corporations with the usual responsibilities and liabilities of a private sector business owner.

The government is reviewing how physicians are paid, what they are paid for, and how much they are paid. Of all the health care professions, physicians are the only ones to be targeted by the government. Union contracts are off limits, e.g., United Nurses of Alberta [UNA], Health Sciences Association of Alberta [HSAA] and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees [AUPE]; all support the Friends of Medicare. When it comes to “bending the cost curve” in health care, the government appears to have exempted union members.

[2] The provision of blood plasma and paying donors as proposed by Canadian Plasma Resources.

The great sin of Canadian Plasma Resources is its plan to pay donors, which according to a Canadian Press report for the Canadian Healthcare Network [May 11, 2016], is $25 in the form of a tax receipt or a reloadable credit card in that amount. The federal NDP has also called on Ottawa to ban private, for-profit plasma clinics, citing safety concerns.

Ontario has outlawed compensated blood plasma services. In British Columbia, the usual opponents of the health-care private sector are supporting the BC NDP’s efforts to ban the service. The BC NDP’s supporters from Alberta include Friends of Medicare; Sandra Azocar, Executive Director, Friends of Medicare; and Heather Smith, President, United Nurses of Alberta.

Canada, however, is not self-sufficient in producing blood plasma products. So where do Canada’s provincial governments responsible for publicly funded health care, i.e., Medicare, turn? According to Canadian Plasma Resources CEO Barzin Bahardoust, “80% of its [Canada’s] plasma comes from compensated donors” outside Canada.

Now, there’s a Saturday Night Live [SNL] skit here.

  • We need to ban private, for-profit blood plasma clinics in Canada.
  • Why?
  • Because they are private sector and for-profit.
  • We need to ban paying blood plasma donors in Canada.
  • Why?
  • Because it would be un-Canadian to compensate them. And, it might compromise the integrity of the Canadian blood supply system.
  • But, if Canada doesn’t allow Canadian donors to be compensated, will we have enough blood plasma?
  • No problem. We’ll just keep doing what we’ve always done.
  • What’s that?
  • Buy from the United States where they compensate American donors and have lots to sell. And, by the way, where Canada doesn’t have any regulatory oversight and authority regarding the integrity of the blood supply system.
  • Oh, goody, goody. Medicare really does work.










Canada’s government-run health care system – Medicare -- is a monopoly that prohibits private hospital and private physician care. Medicare is a subpar performer, ranking 10th among 11 advanced countries. Canadians deserve much better! Patients deserve timely access to quality care and choice of hospitals and physicians. Taxpayers deserve much more value for their tax dollars.

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