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The Doctor Is (Not) In: Do Membership Fees Mean You Have To Pay to See A Family Doctor?

Despite Premier Smith's election promise "membership-based" service fees have are cropping up

This summer has been one of change, uncertainty, and tension where health care in Alberta is concerned.

During the election, Premier Danielle Smith assured voters that paid access to family doctors was not a part of Alberta’s future. Yet, new “membership-based” service fees began to crop up at local medical practices this summer. 

The Marda Loop Medical Clinic in Calgary is one example of new fees to access medical services. Their membership system promised smaller wait times, greater flexibility in booking appointments, and other services which are not accessible to non-paying patients.

Within this new system, a two-parent family would pay $4,800 per year for membership, and those who don’t cough up the cash can only book appointments one day per week. 

This sounds like paid access to us.

Alberta’s NDP was decidedly unimpressed.

Luanne Metz, the Alberta NDP Critic for Health (Emergency and Surgical Care), told, “I primarily fault the provincial government for pushing these doctors into a situation where this is how they have to pay the bills, and I fault the province for allowing these membership fees to be charged.”

Medical services fees go to the heart of universal healthcare: access. There is a troubling shortage of family physicians in Alberta, and no one should be limited in their ability to see a doctor because they cannot afford to go.

It’s a sticky issue. Courts in other provinces have ruled that provincial governments have the authority to prevent these changes – they are not obligated to do so. 

So will Premier Smith, who has previously supported private doctor care, enforce her campaign promise.

We’ll see.

Her government has since committed to investigating the matter. Premier Smith ultimately placed sanctions on the Marda Loop clinic in early August, saying the membership policy conflicted with the Canada Health Act., which essentially guarantees access to public health for all Canadians.

According to CBC, Smith said the clinic would be fined, lose Alberta Health access, or be shut down altogether if they continued their new program.

The question remains whether Smith’s government will continue to enforce her promise to prevent paid access.

Only time will tell.

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