Premier under fire for health savings account comments, calls it 'spin'
Premier Danielle Smith is being taken to task over comments she made outside political life, on video and in a paper for the University of Calgary last year, proposing a health savings account.
On July 17, 2022, Smith pitched in a video livestream on her member-funded Locals.com account the creation of a health savings account for all Albertans, with $375 of government money that could be topped up by employer contributions and family donations.
“We recognize that health care spending is going to increase with an aging population with new techniques, new technologies, new pharmaceuticals, new genetic testing, new remedies, new diagnostics, and we have to find a way to get more money into the system which doesn't necessarily mean more taxes,” said Smith.
“That's what the beauty of the health spending account is all about, is that not only would we seed it with a bit of money, but then we would give you the incentive to put more money in for your own medical needs, or get your employer to put money in or get family members to donate money.”
Smith referenced a letter she crafted for the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy in June 2021.
Smith stated Albertans don’t want to put more tax dollars in “a general pot of money, to give to the head of AHS” and how it would make decisions on medical treatments.
In a separate video posted June 3, 2021, by MegaPixx Media, Smith spoke with Mario Toneguzzi on Business Insider.
Smith floated the idea of having general checkups with family doctors covered by a health spending account.
“A regular checkup to your doctor, does that really have to be something that is covered 100 per cent by government?” said Smith.
“Maybe you need to see a nutritionist instead, or maybe you need to see a psychologist because we've all suffered mentally, because of the lockdown for the last 18 months.”
Smith also alluded to bringing back health premiums.
“So if you don't need any major surgery in the year, you don't pay any portion towards your costs,” said Smith.
“If you do have a major surgery in a year, then you pay a portion of the cost in a deductible just like you would if you had a claim in your car insurance or claim in your health insurance. It would connect people to the fact that health care is not free.”
Smith did say in her paper that those earning less than $75,000 annually would not have a deductible. Those earning between $75,000 and $150,000 would have around a $500 deductible and those making more than $150,000 would pay around $1,000 annually.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley says Smith is trying to bleed public health care dry.
“She's talking about American style, credit card medicine,” said Notley.
“Where folks who are sick cannot count on getting the care they need, when they need it, if they don't have a whole heck of a lot of money in the bank.”
Smith says Notley was spinning what was said in a tweet Sunday.
“I’m committed to public health care,” tweeted Smith.
“Health spending accounts are a bonus for Albertans to pay for services not covered by AHS. Rachel Notley knows this, but she doesn’t care about the truth. She’d rather spin than give real feedback on how to improve our current system.”
Notley fired back Monday, saying it’s Smith who is “lying” about her position.
“To be clear, Danielle Smith has a strong and long record of changing her mind, if you want to put it that way,” said Notley.
“Her whole career is defined by her changing her mind. So exactly why is it that we should be trusting that she won't change her mind, again, based on the level of passion behind her defence of private health care that we saw on those videos this weekend?”
Smith’s office released a statement Monday saying the account would help pay for costs not covered by the health care system or private insurance.
“This will make health care more comprehensive and more accessible to Albertans,” said Rebecca Polak, Smith’s press secretary, in a statement.
Asked if deductibles were a part of the plan, Smith’s office did not provide a response.
Smith also tweeted answers to Notley’s comments, from a campaign video this summer.
In it, she says the proposed health savings account will be $300, not $375 for each Albertan.
In the July 2022 video, Smith also floated the idea of an app, where medical professionals register with their credentials and services they offer.
From there, Smith says patients can log in with their Alberta health care number to set up an appointment.
“Once you have the registrants who want to give (and) deliver service and the people who want to receive service, the options connect them,” said Smith.
“Then they can exchange money between them without having a bunch of administrators managing who is able to get a service and who isn't.”
Smith says the accounts would help with many health care appointments not covered by Alberta Health Services.
“Chiropractic and eye exams, eyeglasses and braces,” said Smith.
“Getting your cavities filled and physiotherapy, the list goes on and on.”
Smith’s office would not answer questions on whether this is an idea that is in the works.
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