Yes, we spend a lot on health but we haven’t paid for it – yet

Alberta’s health care is the largest expense in the provincial budget; one and a half times more than provincial income tax revenue, five times more than corporate income tax revenue, and almost four times more than oil and gas royalties in 2019 (don’t even get me started on the outlook for 2020).

At $21 billion per year, it has recently become the largest target for savings, with doctors – incredulously – singled out by an ideology that has truly lost its way.

The United Conservative government has decided to publish a sunshine list of doctor compensation. This has been standard practice in other jurisdictions without the government of the day making them out to be overpaid first; oddly enough.

And here I must add a potentially unpopular, if reasoned, caveat: the government doesn’t include tertiary expenses in their reports. That is, they tally what they pay out to contracted companies or individuals – they don’t ask, nor should they, how contractors or suppliers spend that money.

With that being said, one of the things we know about public health is that it is the single largest employer in the province. Our public health service employs more people than any other industry in the province – over 300,000 people, or 12 per cent of the working-age population.

Alberta’s public health service employees are not contracted out from other provinces. Employees and the vast majority of their employers live, work, and pay taxes in our province.

They contribute to our communities.

They order dinner locally. Their children attend school locally. They shop locally.

Doctors are not just public servants, they are also business owners and employers.

Doctors lease or own over 600,000 square feet of retail space. Their businesses have put hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure, including jobs to construct and maintain those spaces.

They also hire business managers, nursing and specialty staff, administrators, cleaners, and spend money on supplies.

They create jobs, they build our economy, and they are part of our communities.

And they see things most of us don’t want to see.

They jump to action when some of us freeze.

They go in for a closer look while most of us turn away.

They get to tell us the best news and sometimes have to tell us the worst. Then they go back and do it again the next day for people they don’t even know.

If something doesn’t seem right, we rely on them to help find a solution. In a time of crisis, we rely on them to be there for us, take care of us, and do everything they can to help us.

And they do.

How much is your child’s health worth? Your spouse’s? Your parent’s? Yours?

How much is 12 per cent of the province’s buying power worth to businesses?

Right now it’s worth one and a half times more than we’re willing to pay – and every Albertan with someone to lose knows it just doesn’t add up.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts

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