Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott is looking to calm fears that the Progressive Conservative government is creating a two-tier health-care system, but will not offer specifics about changes that are coming, saying only that consultations are under way.
A day after the NDP leaked a draft government bill that sparked concerns about privatization, Ms. Elliott accused the opposition party of “fear-mongering” and said her government will not expand private hospitals or create a system that allows people to pay out of pocket to access better health care.
“I want to assure the people of Ontario that we are dedicated to the principle of universal access to health care through our public health-care system,” Ms. Elliott told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Friday.
“No one will be able to jump ahead in line because of money concerns. We are dedicated to improving service for the public.”
Still, Ms. Elliott refused to comment on the details of an 81-page draft bill called the Health System Efficiency Act, which outlines the tentative plans for a new “super agency” to manage health-care services. The draft bill would allow the government to transfer the responsibilities of organizations including any local health integration network (LHIN), Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and the Trillium Gift of Life Network to the super agency.
“We’re still doing our consultations. It’s not been finalized,” Ms. Elliott said. “We’re looking for the best model to make sure that we can get best value for our health dollars. We’re spending $61-billion a year on health care in Ontario, but study after study shows that we’re not getting the best value for those dollars.”
Ms. Elliott did not rule out further expanding private delivery of health care within the public system. Ontario already has many privately run facilities, such as labs and diagnostic-imaging centres. But she said the government is not focused on it.
“We’re concentrating on strengthening the aspects of our public health-care system, because we know that we need transformational change,” she said, adding that the government’s plans will be released “very soon.”
The draft bill does not explicitly use the term “privatization,” but it contains language that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said would open the door to privatizing health care, including hospitals. Ms. Elliott later dismissed the claims, saying Ms. Horwath was “crying wolf.”
Ms. Horwath called the bill “a blueprint for privatization.” She told reporters it “is going to create an agency that is then going to farm out health-care services to whatever agency for-profit … can provide it.”
Ms. Elliott said Friday that it is important to find out how the bill leaked.
“There are many confidential matters that are discussed in the Ministry of Health and all of the other ministries,” she said. "I know the civil servants of Ontario take their responsibilities very seriously too, and so this isn’t good for the politicians or for the civil service or for the people of Ontario. So we need to find out what happened here.”
Karen Palmer, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, said centralizing Ontario’s health system could cut administrative costs, but might not be the best solution for patients. She said it would be “a shame” to lose agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario and the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which she says perform well, in the name of centralization.
“Everything is certainly not broken in Ontario’s decentralized system of LHINs. In fact, there’s much that’s good about it,” she said.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Carly Weeks