Government plans to download responsibility for health care could cost Alberta businesses $500 million a year, says AFL

CALGARY - The Alberta government's plan to limit Medicare coverage will end up costing businesses in the province $500 million or more each year, says a presentation prepared by the Alberta Federation of Labour for Roy Romanow's commission on the future of health care.

"The recommendations contained in the Mazankowski report aren't just misguided - some of them are downright dangerous from an economic point of view," says AFL President Les Steel, who will be appearing before Romanow in Calgary today.

In its presentation to the commission, the AFL focuses on the impact of government plans to download health costs from the public sector onto the shoulders of individuals and businesses. In particular, the AFL says that plans to de-list services and introduce so-called Medical Savings Accounts will create a market for supplementary private health insurance.

"For those of us in the labour movement, our preference would be to maintain a comprehensive and fully funded public system," says Steel. "But make no mistake - if the Alberta government goes ahead with plans to limit what's covered publicly, then unions will have no choice but to fight for supplementary private insurance at the bargaining table. It will become one of our top priorities."

As it stands right now, Canadian employers pay an average of $93 a month for extended health benefits to cover things like dental and vision care. That compares to the U.S. where employers pay as much as $600 per employee every month for health benefits. Steel says any move to limit Medicare coverage will result in dramatic increases to benefit costs for Alberta businesses.

"There are 275,000 unionized workers in this province," he says. "So if supplementary private insurance health insurance costs another $50 per month per employee that's an extra cost to Alberta businesses of $165 million per year. If it costs an extra $100 per month, that's a cost of $330 million per year. And if it costs an extra $150 per month, that's an added cost to business of $495 million each year. And that's just the unionized workforce."

In the end, the AFL says the Mazankowksi plan will saddle Alberta businesses with hundreds of millions - many even billions - in extra, on-going costs. This will drive up the cost of doing business in Alberta; it will reduce the competitive advantage that we currently enjoy because of Medicare; and it will probably mean the loss of thousands of jobs as companies scramble to pay the bills.

"The message for the Alberta business community is clear: wake up and smell the coffee," says Steel. "They should not be supporting this government's health policy. It will be very bad for business."

For more information call:

Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-910-1137 (cell)

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