Fees in hospital emergency rooms not in the cards for Albertans: health minister

EDMONTON - Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky says the government isn't planning to bring in fees for visits to hospital emergency rooms.

EDMONTON - Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky says the government isn't planning to bring in fees for visits to hospital emergency rooms.

The minister told a radio talk show Wednesday that Albertans should talk about the idea in discussions about health care.

"I'm not saying that we're going to do it. I'm just saying let's have a sensible discussion about this and stop anybody from getting too inflamed about anything," the minister said on the program.

But later in an interview he clarified that Alberta has no plans to do anything that would violate national health-care rules that prohibit user fees.

"There's not going to be any user fee for visiting emergency and/or any other aspect of the health system," said Zwozdesky. "I think it's got to be made very clear that we're working within the Canada Health Act.

"I'm not looking to advocate for any kind of a user fee," he said. "We're tying to arrive at the very best publicly funded health-care system in Canada. That does not include any two-tiered models."

Zwozdesky said he wants to see a broad discussion about possible changes or improvements to health care and no one's views should be stifled.

"All I'm saying is let's allow the discussion to go on in a calm, sensible, rational way so that we're focused on what the premier's vision is and what people's expectations are," he told the talk show.

Zwozdesky later offered comment on a new report from the Quality Health Council that says emergency room waiting times in Alberta have increased in the last two years.

He said it's time for all provinces to talk about a national standard for emergency room wait times.

"I think it's going to be important for all provinces to come up with some agreement as to what acceptable ER wait times are ... I think we have to aspire to something that's far better than what we're seeing so far."

Zwozdesky also mused on the radio program about bringing back annual statements Albertans used to receive in the mail that told them how much they cost the health-care system in the last year.

He said some people complained that the statements weren't always accurate, but he added the system has improved since then.

"We have a much more sophisticated way of tracking information, of entering it and assessing it."

 
 
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