Fentie flip flops on health fees

An oblique reference to private health by Premier Dennis Fentie has people wondering if zombie medicare is coming to the Yukon.

An oblique reference to private health by Premier Dennis Fentie has people wondering if zombie medicare is coming to the Yukon.

It’s a reference to a fee proposal a politician insists is neither alive nor dead, but is likely to get you anyway.

Fentie gave the issue life through a remark in his budget address.

Yukoners want “some carefully planned private user-fee health-care services,” said Fentie. This assertion is based on a survey done for Yukon’s health care review. “Our government is acting on the findings” of the report, Fentie said.

The introduction of new health fees would be an about-face for the Yukon Party government, which has for the past year insisted it has no such plans.

Fentie continued to say as much during question period last week, without actually clarifying what he meant in the budget speech.

“We have stated all along, categorically, that we will not be seeking to raise fees – user fees or other matters,” Fentie said April 1. The one exception, he said, was the rising tobacco tax, which he said has resulted in a drop in cigarette sales.

Then Fentie veered off and dropped another hint that suggests fees could be coming.

“Let me remind the member that Tommy Douglas himself – the founder of universal health care – clearly articulated years ago, in the 1960s, that his belief is that all individuals should make a contribution to it,” Fentie said.

Then he veered back.

“That’s not to say that, in today’s Yukon, the government is proceeding with taxation, fees, or other courses of action that will charge Yukoners for the services. In fact, we are investing in increasing services for Yukoners.”

This left opposition leaders scratching their heads and wondering what’s in store.

A report called Taking the Pulse, released in May of 2009, is the basis of Fentie’s reference to public support for private fees. The executive summary includes a line that was cut-and-paste, with minor changes, into Fentie’s budget speech.

It states that Yukoners want a long list of improvements to health care, including better retention and recruitment of health staff, more preventative care and wellness programs, improved home-care and community-based services, and, of course, “carefully-planned private/user fee health-care services.”

These are suggestions offered by more than 840 Yukoners who completed a survey between March and May of 2009.

But a breakdown of the questionnaire results shows that Yukoners are divided on the question of whether existing health fees should rise or new fees should be created.

Most respondents did agree that accommodation rates in long-term care facilities should be closer to rates charged in the provinces: 50 per cent agreed, 33 per cent disagreed and 14 per cent were neutral.

A majority also agreed these rates should be gradually increased, possibly grandfathering existing residents at existing rates: 52 per cent agreed, 27 per cent disagreed and 20 per cent were neutral.

But most respondents dislike the idea of paying health premiums, which are charged in Quebec and British Columbia and once existed in the territory: 52 per cent disagreed, 29 per cent agreed and 18 per cent were neutral.

And a majority also disagreed the cost of pharmacare and extended health benefits should rise to what seniors pay in the rest of Canada: 47 per cent disagreed, 40 per cent agreed and 11 were neutral.

By 2018, the territory expects the gap between its health expenses and federal funding to grow to $250 million annually. Introducing fees would help close this gap, but only a little.

BC-style health premiums, for example, would raise $13 million annually. But $4.5 million of that would be paid by the territory, thanks to a clause in the collective agreements of government employees, which means that the government would only see $8.5 million annually in net revenue.

Contact John Thompson at