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Ralph Kleins announcement that Alberta will integrate private hospitals into the public system should send a chilling message to us all. Pandoras box has now been officially opened on health care and the contents are all for sale. Medicare is at risk.

Albertas proposal means that for the first time private hospitals will be contracted by public health authorities to provide extended stay surgeries. The public health system will be irreparably harmed as public dollars are drained away into the pockets of corporations.

Private hospitals will be accredited to perform both insured and non-insured surgeries on an overnight stay basis. Public funds will now be subsidizing private health care and non-profit hospitals will lose revenues they currently receive from performing uninsured surgeries such as those provided under WCB.

There are no mechanisms in place to hold private for-profit institutions accountable for the quality of the service or for cost-effectiveness. There are no studies to indicate that the private sector can do the procedures more cost-effectively. In fact, Klein himself says that he doesnt know if the new system will be able to save money. The Alberta governments ideological motives have become more important than the health of Albertans.

Albertas plan is a violation of the Canada Health Act. Public adminis-tration and accessibility - two of the key principles of that Act are clearly threatened. Canadians understand that the spirit of the Canada Health Act is as important as the letter of the Act and do not want public health care to be jeopardized by a government more interested in profits than in health care. Public health care is a social entitlement not a perk for those who can afford it.

If private hospitals are accredited, American corporations will be champing at the bit to enter the Canadian market under the protection of the North American Free Trade Agreement. American corporations will surely interpret Albertas actions as acquiescing to open up the hospital sector to private competition. Nothing could be worse for the fate of Medicare.