Delisting physiotherapy from Ontario's health insurance plan on April 1 will leave patients stranded, put clinics out of business and end up costing the government more in the long run, patients and physiotherapists warned yesterday.
"Under the guise of cost saving, the government is eliminating physiotherapy for those in society that need it the most," said Tony Melles of the Physiotherapy Clinic Owners' Association.
"This is bad patient care, it's bad health-care policy and it's going to lead to much greater costs for this government."
Mr. Melles said at $12.20 for each physiotherapy treatment, the clinics are "the lowest cost, most efficient provider" in the medicare system.
He said other agencies, such as Community Care Access Centres, charge up to eight times as much for the same services, which cost even more at hospitals.
Mr. Melles said disabled children, frail seniors and poor people will be completely without access to physiotherapy unless they can afford to pay for it.
"This will create additional strain on our health-care system by forcing patients to go to a hospital, or force earlier entry into our long-term-care system," Reg Herman, 78, said.
Mr. Herman said he and thousands of seniors on fixed incomes are able to live independently, thanks to physiotherapy. But he said they won't be able to afford to pay for it, especially now that many of them are also paying Ontario's new health premium.
"I'm being asked to pay more and will receive less," he said.
"The unintended consequences of this delisting of physiotherapy from [the Ontario Health Insurance Plan]will leave hundreds of thousands of seniors and other patients stranded."
Parents of disabled children say they could be forced to put their kids into full-time care to ensure they can continue to receive physiotherapy treatments.
"The only other options for families sharing our situation would be to put those children in either a home or a hospital," Jane Pearson of Toronto warned.
"It's an expensive and taxing option for the government and an emotionally draining one for families."
Andrea Brown said her six-year-old son, Samuel, who has a rare condition that severely limits his mobility, sight and hearing, has benefited greatly from physiotherapy.
She's worried Samuel's condition will deteriorate if the physiotherapy is stopped, and asked the government "to show some heart" and reverse its plan.
"This delisting is not one that affects a superfluous procedure like tattoo removal," Ms. Brown said.
"It is one that is a fundamental component of good health for my son and other children like him."
Mr. Melles said even though the delisting is less than two months away, the government has offered no plans for replacing the physiotherapy clinics, which provide about six million treatments in the province each year.
"We have yet to be told what we are to do after March 31," he said.
"Do we close our doors? Do we still have some role in the system? We really don't know. We have no answers."
Mr. Melles said delisting is also unfair to the operators of the physiotherapy clinics and to the 1,000 people they employ.
"I make no bones about the fact that I believe it is wrong that we are put out of business without any discussion, without any consultation, and not even a 'We're sorry.' "
The Liberal government announced in last year's provincial budget that it would delist coverage of eye exams, chiropractic treatments and physiotherapy, and implement a new health-care premium on anyone earning more than $20,000 annually, ranging from $60 to $900 a year.