Albertans will no longer be able to claim chiropractic care starting this summer, after the government delisted chiropractor services from its provincial health plan.
The cut, which will save approximately $53 million, will mean patients will be out up to $200 each year.
The province also cut coverage for gender reassignment surgery or sex-change operations, a move that will save $700,000, leaving about 20 patients each year on the hook for procedures that cost anywhere between $18,000 and $70,000.
“We want to ensure that we look after the most vulnerable in society and at the same time we have the cost pressures of what we can afford and what we can’t afford, and so some tough decisions have to be made,” Health Minister Ron Liepert said.
He said he had to find $42 million to boost home-care for seniors, and the cuts to chiropractic care and for sex changes was the solution. “This is not about whether the service is a required service or a desired service. This is about making tough choices in the budget. We can’t cover everything.”
Chiropractors knew the cut was being discussed, but have no plans to lobby the government to change its decision.
“We’re a little disappointed, obviously,” said Dr. Clark Mills, president of the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors. “We’re confident Albertans value chiropractic and its benefits.”
“I think it is now in the hands of Albertans,” Mills said. “If it is something they wanted embedded in health care, they will have to make that case.”
Mills said delisting chiropractic service seems to be the trend in Canada, with both B.C. and Ontario making similar decisions in the past. Those provinces saw an initial drop in patients turning to chiropractors, but that turned around quickly. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces offer no coverage.
Mills said he suspects seniors and people with low incomes might cancel appointments. He imagines they might return for care once third-party insurance companies offer more coverage.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said the chiropractic cut may end up costing government more in the long run.
“I think very often that kind of care keeps people out of the health-care system and saves money,” Mason said. “I think that’s unfortunate.”