Danielle Smith's health spending account won't solve health care problems, critics say

·3 min read
UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith wants to give each Albertan a $300 health spending account if she becomes premier.  (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith wants to give each Albertan a $300 health spending account if she becomes premier. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Critics say Danielle Smith's plan to give each Albertan a $300 health savings account isn't going to help solve the issues with accessing timely health care.

The UCP leadership candidate released additional details Friday on how her plan would work if she becomes premier.

The account would be managed through a smartphone app, which would allow users to contact and pay providers, Smith said. The money could be used for services not covered by medicare like prescription drugs, dentistry, physiotherapy, mental health services, and long-term care.

Naturopathy, fitness classes and personal training are also on Smith's list.

"We need to empower each Albertan to invest, save and spend health dollars on the services that they decide will benefit them and their families the most," Smith said in the news release.

"My hope is that we make investing in our health as much a part of our culture as investing in our RSPs and TFSAs."

Smith's idea is getting the thumbs down from people who advocate for a publicly funded health care system.

Chris Galloway, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said Smith's idea is a gimmick created for her campaign. He said no one is asking for a health spending account.

"It doesn't solve any of the needs that people have or help our health-care system that's very clearly in a crisis," he said.

Rachel Notley, leader of Alberta's NDP Official Opposition, said the purpose of the health savings account is to condition people into paying for health-care services, which is what Smith proposed in a policy paper last year. Smith said her view was that fees to see family doctors should come out of those accounts.

Notley said Smith's proposal would limit people's access to services and hurt people who are in poor health.

"This idea is all about pulling back universal funding based on medical need and replacing it with a user-pay system that is driven by how much you do or don't have in your account," Notley said.

"What you have in your account will depend on whether you are healthy or unfortunately are struggling with a health issue and so it discriminates against those who need the help the most."

'Stop with the gimmicks'

Smith's opponents in the UCP leadership race also criticized the proposal.

"While there are many unanswered questions about Ms. Smith's idea, I do know for certain that it doesn't address the real issues in health care in our province," Travis Toews, the UCP MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, said in a statement to CBC News.

Like Galloway, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer called the idea a $1.5 billion gimmick that won't help recruit and retain family doctors. She said money for health spending accounts would be better used recruiting health-care professionals.

"Precious taxpayer's dollars must be spent transparently on helping to retain and attract the humans that are so needed," Aheer said in a statement. "It is time to stop with the gimmicks and it is time for serious people to get to work on the real issues of how we rebuild trust, friendships and transparency with our doctors, nurses, EMS and health-care staff."

Rebecca Schulz, UCP leadership candidate and MLA for Calgary-Shaw, wants to address wait times and beef up primary care networks. She is concerned about how much it would cost to give people $300 through an app.

"This is such a small amount of money and will require a lot of administration to roll those dollars out for, like I said, what barely covers two visits to a naturopath," she said in an interview with CBC News.

Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche MLA Brian Jean focused on how Albertans would access the app in a tweet posted Friday.

"Smith's plan will create de-facto government digital ID, " he said. "Interesting."

Smith's campaign didn't reply to a request from CBC News to respond to criticisms about her proposal.