Alberta’s premier and health minister appear to be offering opposing views on whether the province needs to get more money from residents to pay for health care.

Health Minister Ron Liepert told a gathering of rural politicians Thursday that many people are telling him they see a need to replace health-care premiums that were discontinued in January.

Liepert later told reporters he hasn’t figured out where the extra money might come from, but said it wouldn’t be a tax or a user fee.

“I don’t have anything specific that I’m referring to, I just think that we need to start to have that discussion,” the minister said. “Because I’m getting a significant number of calls from Albertans who are saying, ‘Don’t cut spending in health care, we’d like to pay something for health care.’

“I’m listening to them and we’ll see where it goes.”

Premier Ed Stelmach later downplayed the idea of a new revenue stream for health care — something he said he has heard talked about in several parts of the province.

“People said, ‘Well, you know you lost $1 billion in revenue by eliminating health-care premiums,’” said Stelmach. “But the funny thing about that is most of the time it’s coming from people who never paid them.”

The premier said Albertans who actually paid the $1,056 a year in health premiums out of their own pocket have expressed strong support for the elimination of the premium.

“When I talked to a single parent, a mom with two kids, working for an employer that doesn’t pay any benefits, that’s a huge saving for her.”

Alberta currently spends about $13 billion a year on health care, but the province’s faltering economy has forced the government to look for costs savings.

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