Alberta medical clinic will not pursue membership fees, province loses $13 million in health transfers

Marda Loop Medical Clinic promised to reduce wait times and extend appointment times for households that pay up to $4,800 annually, even as they struggle to meet overhead costs.

Alberta medical clinic will not pursue membership fees, province loses $13 million in health transfers
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According to a health ministry spokesperson, a Calgary clinic that faced pushback for tabling extensive membership fees is no longer proceeding with the change.

Marda Loop Medical Clinic promised to reduce wait times and extend appointment times for households that pay up to $4,800 annually, even as they struggle to meet overhead costs.

Dr. Sally Talbot-Jones, owner and manager of the clinic, said her struggles to meet overhead costs forced her to consider a membership model.

"We're empathetic people. We want to look after patients," she told CBC, who first reported the story. "But at the end of the day, the bank doesn't care that you're empathetic." 

Talbot-Jones said her patients came to her for healthcare alternatives, adding that her model enabled patients to secure access to extra appointments.

However, a spokesperson for the health ministry confirmed Tuesday that the clinic would not proceed to charge fees on August 1.

The prospective membership for two-parent households and their dependent children would have cost $4,800 annually, whereas one-parent families would have paid $2,400. For a single adult, it's $2,200 a year.

Marda Loop Medical Clinic became one of the first clinics in the province — known to the public — to promise fast-tracked access to a family doctor, along with other perks.

According to a 2022 research paper, Alberta had 14 private clinics between November 2019 and June 2020 with membership models and annual fees. During that same period, 24 private clinics existed in Ontario and another 30 in Québec.

On July 26, the Alberta government confirmed 13 known clinics operating in the province that offered uninsured services not included in the Canada Health Act and the healthcare insurance plan.

Former Saskatchewan Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon told the CBC that what unfolded at the Marda Loop Medical Centre revealed the amount of stress Canada's healthcare system faced.

"You have patients that are [unwilling] to wait and are looking for other options," she said.

"And, you have doctors and other health professionals that are stressed about the fee-for-service model, with patients, patients, patients, with [inadequate] time to deal, in some cases, with the problems."

MacKinnon contested the idea that healthcare solidarity meant "everybody waiting in line together." she claimed that never occurred and is "increasingly […] occurring less and less."

On Friday, Alberta Health sent a letter to the clinic voicing accessibility concerns about the impending membership fee model after Premier Danielle Smith and Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange directed them to investigate.

Smith said her government had signed an agreement with Ottawa worth $24 billion over ten years to uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act.

"That means that you cannot charge to access insured services. If that's what [Marda Loop is] doing, they will be shut down, [...] fined, [or] we will withhold payments to them. So it won't be allowed to happen."

On April 6, 2023, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a Vancouver-based surgeon, Dr. Brian Day, who contends that the restriction of access to private healthcare ultimately harms middle-class and lower-income Canadians.

"Wealthy Canadians have always gone down to the United States [for care], but where do middle-income and lower-income Canadians go?" Day wrote in his argument to the court. 

According to Health Canada, Canadians should have access to primary healthcare services based on medical needs rather than their ability or willingness to pay.

A July 25 statement affirmed their opposition to a "two-tiered healthcare system" where patients can gain expedited access to primary care services.

However, uncovered government data that showed at least 41,620 Canadians have died while waiting for surgery and diagnostic scans since 2018/19. 

"While there is some good in these latest numbers, let's not forget the millions of patients still waiting for the care they need," said Colin Craig, president of 

"Many of their stories are tragic: people waiting in pain for joint surgery, people unable to see properly because of untreated cataracts. Governments need to implement real health reforms now to help Canadian patients."

According to Day, middle and lower-income Canadians "suffer and die on wait lists," adding that nearly three-quarters of Canadians want private insurance to access alternative care options.

Over the weekend, Health Canada confirmed it deducted $13.8 million in health transfer payments in March because clinics charged for medically necessary diagnostic services.

Under the Canada Health Act, provinces that allow private healthcare providers to charge patients for medically necessary services have dollars clawed back by the federal government. 

Québec received a $41.87 million deduction, while B.C. lost $17.17 million in federal health transfers.

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