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'A flatline to healthcare': Health sector responds to Alberta budget

Last Updated Feb 28, 2020 at 6:09 pm MDT

Public sector workers stand outside the Alberta Legislature opposing the 2020 Alberta budget tabled on Thursday Sarolta Saskiw/CityNews

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — As reaction continues to trickle down on budget day, one main area of concern is being raised in the health sector.

Just minutes after the budget was released, immediate reaction could be seen marching towards the doors of the legislature.

Protestors in the thousands made their voices immediately heard as they raised concerns with cuts and what they were calling a “lack of support for health care in Alberta.”

Friends of Medicare, a provincial coalition of individuals, unions, associations, and more whose goal is to raise public awareness on concerns related to Medicare in Alberta, raised red flags with the announcement.

The group raising concerns with the small spending increase of 0.3%, adding that “a minimum of 2.9% additional funding is necessary to keep Alberta’s health care spending in line with inflation and population growth each year.”

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“Regardless of the political spin, when a government is not able to provide health care to meet the needs of a growing population, it is a cut,” executive director of Friends of Medicare Sandra Azocar said in a release. “As one goes down line by line through Budget 2020, what we’re seeing is a decrease in most areas of the health care budget.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Alberta Medical Association says the provincial budget will lead to a 20 per-cent cut for physicians as costs go up and billing fee changes kick in.

Doctor Christine Molnar says the reduction is compounded by the fact the province has unilaterally cancelled the master agreement with the association and can raise or lower billing fees with no consultation.

Molnar says physicians are frustrated by fee changes that are to start April 1st.

The budget leaves the health operating budget at more than 20-billion-dollars, with more than five billion of that for doctors.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says reports show Alberta is paying more than other regions for health care but getting lesser outcomes.

NDP Health critic David Shepherd says cuts will make wait times for diagnostic tests even longer and weaken Alberta’s ability to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Heather Smith, head of the United Nurses of Alberta, says the budget is another regressive step toward trying to fix the economy on the backs of public sector workers.

With files from the Canadian Press