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Harper touts Quebec reforms in response to Alberta plan; But says he needs time to study Klein proposals Critics say delay casts doubts on medicare stand (The Toronto Star)

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The Toronto Star 2006.03.02 MET News A7 Andrew Mills Toronto Star OTTAWA FRED CHARTRAND CP Prime Minister Stephen Harper saidyesterday he needs time to study health−care reforms proposed by Alberta but the situation could prove tricky ILLUSTRATION: because he has promised to both support the Canada Health Act and give provinces more freedom to set their own policy. WORD COUNT: 613 Prime Minister Stephen Harper is encouraging the provinces to follow Quebec's − and not Alberta's − proposals for health care reform. That was about as far as Harper was willing to go yesterday in pronouncing an opinion on Alberta's radical plan − the "Third Way" that would, among other measures, allow patients to pay cash for some treatments, including hip and knee replacements, to get faster treatment. Experts say this is a clear breach of the Canada Health Act, which Harper has promised to uphold. Klein himself admitted yesterday that the proposed reforms may violate the health act, but added he's willing to take that risk. But Harper, despite criticism from federal opposition parties and Ontario, who urged him to state the proposals contravene the act, refused to say what he thinks of the Alberta proposals, explaining he needs more time to study them. For the Prime Minister, using provisions in the health act to punish Alberta could prove politically dicey for a number of reasons. For one, Harper has promised Ottawa will give the provinces more freedom to set their own policies. And rapping Alberta's knuckles risks alienating Conservatives both in Alberta − Harper's strongest base of support − and those in the party who prefer an expanded role for privately provided health care. But Harper did praise Quebec's plans for health reform, which allow the health system to sub−contract to private clinics only in cases where patients have waited more than six months for treatment and only for hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery. Unlike Alberta, Quebec has also said doctors cannot work in both the public and for−profit sectors, but must choose one or the other. "I would encourage Alberta and the other provinces, as they talk about reforms, to always keep in mind the importance of access for patients and I would encourage all of them to look at particularly Quebec's proposal," 105

03/02/2006

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