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If we keep electing zombie policy makers, we're going to keep getting zombie health care policies

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Dr. Paul Parks

The "Bed Blockers" are back. Health Minister Stephen Mandel (unelected) used the term, so it's official.

Actually, it's a lot like a horror movie that never ends out here in Alberta. Just when you think it's safe to settle down on Elm Street and get the kids ready for a little Halloween fun, the Bed Blockers come lurching down the street.

It happens every time we get a new conservative premier here on the Western edge of the Great Plains, which seems to be every couple of years nowadays.

First we're promised the problem will be exorcised. Then we vote for the new conservative exorcist. Then there's a yet another crisis in acute care. Then Dr. Paul Parks, the Emergency Room physician from the appropriately named city of Medicine Hat (always played by the same guy), is interviewed in one of Alberta's better newspapers, or writes an op-ed. He explains to us, again, that the problem is a lack of long-term care beds for people who require hospitalization but don't need acute care.

Then the new premier recognizes the problem -- they may even tell a moving story about how it's affected his, or her, family personally -- and promises to do something about it, to wit, somehow creating more long-term care beds to free up acute care beds, which will ease the crunch in Emergency Rooms, etc.

Then he, or she, gets into office and does the opposite, reducing the number of long-term care beds in the public system, encouraging a bigger role for the always expensive and inefficient private sector. Next thing you know we're back on the edge of a "catastrophic collapse" and blaming the "bed blockers" -- who had absolutely nothing to do with creating the problem.

It happened under premier Ralph Klein. The same thing happened under premier Ed Stelmach. Then it happened under premier Alison Redford. Now it's happening under premier (still unelected) Jim Prentice. So not only have we seen this lousy movie before, we've seen it over and over, and we're still seeing it.

Inevitably, the recognition of the problem is accompanied by calls for more expensive and time-consuming studies to find a solution -- which, as noted, is pretty apparent. This increases the sense of crisis -- and public willingness to try increasingly radical "solutions."

Do you sense a pattern here?

Well, I've got news for you, people: conservatives cannot fix this problem.

And that means conservatives of any stripe, including Wildrose conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, neoliberal conservatives, and plain old unreconstituted Tories.

Whether or not Alberta voters are prepared to admit this -- and the chances are very slim that they are -- this is axiomatic.

The reason for it is plain on its face. The era of genuinely progressive conservative thinking that recognized the absolutely essential role of government is over and every stream of modern conservatism (including, alas, those that have infected some of our progressive parties as well) is simply delusional on the topic of the alleged benefits of privatization in health care.

If this debate were about empirical facts, the conversation would be over.

But it's about ideology, bordering on faith, bordering on religion -- so no amount of evidence is about to change the belief in privatization that drives the long-term care policies of both the Jim Prentice Conservatives and the Danielle Smith Wildrose Party.

I doubt there's much difference with the Liberals under Raj Sherman, either, or for that matter the New Democrats under whoever wins the leadership of that party next Saturday, probably Rachel Notley, although my (obviously partisan but sincerely held) belief is that the New Democrats remain the best spokespeople for public health care.

Whoever emerges victorious in the next general election, and we all have to concede that it's almost certain to be either the Prentice Tories or the Smith Wildrosers, will continue to try to solve the "bed blocker" problem with "market-based solutions."

Whether they actually believe in the efficacy of privatization as policy -- and I'm prepared to concede that some of them sincerely do -- or they're just doing it to please some of their most generous donors doesn't really matter. The policy will return and the results won't change.

Paul Parks will continue to write op-en articles explaining the looming catastrophe.

The disaster will lurch from bad to worse. The policy you get may be undead on arrival, but every time it turns up it'll do real harm.

We are just, as they say, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

And if we keep electing zombie policy makers, we're going to keep getting zombie policies.


This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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