Progress Report #210
Your weekly update on Alberta politics for March 24, 2020
(This is an online version of the Progress Report email newsletter which comes out every Tuesday morning. You can subscribe here)
We knew the UCP government would use the cover of the coronavirus crisis to ram through some wild policy, but even I’m surprised by the audacity of this one.
Last week the UCP launched and endorsed Babylon, a new ‘app-based healthcare service’ offered by Telus.
Alberta doctors were infuriated to learn that the government was paying Telus and the Babylon Health Services $38 per remote consultation, when the Alberta government was only paying local doctors $20. After a weekend of getting absolutely blasted online, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced yesterday that Alberta doctors’ rates would be increased.
But that’s not the only problem with this app--like most of these tech-bro ‘disruptions’ of existing services, it seems to get its advantage by cutting corners and taking advantage. The Alberta Medical Association published a list of complaints on Sunday. Part of the Babylon service is to go not through a direct conversation with a doctor, but with an automated ‘chatbot.’ Critics in the UK, where Babylon has been doing business for a while, allege that the chatbot just gets diagnoses wrong--and has a tendency to dump people unnecessarily on the emergency room.
Add to that some serious privacy problems: the Babylon terms of service suggest that Babylon Health, a multinational corporation owned in large part by Saudi Arabia, can do whatever it wants with your health information--up to and including the videos of you consulting with their doctors. The NDP is calling for a review by the privacy commissioner but the UCP are, of course, not interested in that.
I would have expected the UCP push for privatizing our healthcare to be a bit more subtle than making an Uber out of it, but here we are. Wild times. Folks opposed to Babylon have taken to review-bombing it with bad ratings on the Android and iPhone stores; have fun with that, if you’re so inclined.
Over the weekend Donald Trump spread false hope of a coronavirus cure, exaggerating some very tentative findings of a small experiment with anti-malaria drugs--and already several people have died from overdosing or otherwise poisoning themselves with them. Wouldn’t you know it, the science-knower herself, right-wing pundit Danielle Smith has been praising the drugs for days too, to the point where (with no doubt some urging from her employers) she’s had to start issuing retractions online. Don’t get your medical advice from Donald Trump and Danielle Smith, folks.
Tim Hortons maybe have fixed up their policies around sick days, but apparently no one is telling the employees of UCP MLA Tracy Allard’s Tims franchises down in Grande Prairie. Press Progress reports that the managers down there “do not know if workers who contract COVID-19 are entitled to paid sick leave” and “struggled to answer basic questions about their sick leave policies.”
UFCW won a significant victory for grocery store workers this week, wringing a $2/hr premium until May (retroactive to March 8!) from the Loblaws corporation. The folks working in grocery stores, drug stores, and the supply chain behind them are some of the real heroes in this crisis; kudos to UFCW for securing this win for their members. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Progress Report podcast which is on this very issue.
- What’s up with the weird half-measure Calgary Transit is doing for the coronavirus crisis? Up here in Edmonton, transit is temporarily fare-free as part of state-of-emergency policies brought in by the city. And good--fussing around with fares and transfers is just providing another way for the virus to spread. But I hear down in Calgary, they’re pseudo-honor-systeming it--asking you to buy a ticket and then tear it up yourself. Silly stuff, Calgary. Just suspend the fares!
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