Last month, the British Columbia government decided to get tough with private health-care clinics, announcing that after Oct. 1, serious fines and, potentially, fraud charges would be levied against operators engaged in “extra billing.”
The timing was odd, to say the least. The government is in court as we speak, trying to settle the question: Do private clinics have a legitimate and rightful role to play inside the Canadian health-care system? In other words, at issue is the very future of medicare.
It has been dragging on for months, thanks largely to the constant objections and counterobjections from a legion of lawyers representing various groups involved in the case. The trial had to be adjourned at one point, when the lead plaintiff, Dr. Brian Day, founder of the Cambie Surgery Centre, had to hunt for additional money to continue paying his counsel.
Trials of this nature are complex and costly. The B.C. government would love nothing more than to see Dr. Day fold his tent, bled dry of funding. Money, of course, is not an issue for the government. It has loads of it, courtesy of you and me.
Now, Dr. Day is facing the prospect of seeking an injunction to stop the NDP government from bringing in the promised changes to the Medicare Protection Act that would allow for the onerous sanctions clinics would face for charging patients for expedited care.
This is terrible news for any number of British Columbians facing lengthy waiting lists for everything from new knees to cancer surgery. In Canada, unlike virtually any country in the world, including several run by communist regimes, you can’t get treated, at your own cost, for a medical problem that is causing you enormous pain and discomfort. You are forced to wait until your number comes up on a public wait-list. (Unless you live in Quebec, that is, where private clinics are legal, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada.)
Recently, there were more than 80,000 adults in B.C. waiting for scheduled, non-emergency surgery. That is an all-time high. But wait you will if this NDP government has its way.
In making his announcement on the private-clinic crackdown, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced new funding for knee and hip surgeries to reduce unconscionable wait times in those high-profile areas. That’s nice. But they represent about 2 to 3 per cent of all surgeries performed in the province. What about other problems?
Vascular patients with severe leg pain? About 40 per cent are not being treated within the government’s recommended time, according to government records turned over to Dr. Day’s legal team. Patients with cataract problems who can’t function without assistance: 60 per cent not handled within government benchmarks. People with severe daily pain from gallbladder colic: 71 per cent not cared for within an acceptable time frame set by government. Sixty-five per cent of people suffering from bladder cancer are not being operated on within the government’s recommended maximum time. It’s almost the same for those who have prostate cancer with a high risk of progression.
But no, let’s not have private clinics that could alleviate some of the burden and backlog here. We’d rather people writhe in pain, in the privacy of their homes, waiting for the phone to ring from an overburdened public health-care system.
There is a reason France and other enlightened countries that have better-performing health-care systems than Canada allow a hybrid, private-public health-care model to persist: It works. It’s more beneficial for patients.
B.C. is planning to shut down private access to diagnostic imaging clinics as well. So, if you need an MRI in a hurry? Get in line or hop in your car and drive to the United States, where you can get one done in a few hours. Or you can drive to Saskatchewan, where you can also get private MRIs. Welcome to Canada, where the Canada Health Act is administered 10 different ways depending on which province you live in.
In 2005, the Supreme Court decided on a case very similar to the one Dr. Day is engaged in here in B.C. In that instance, the country’s highest court ruled that a Quebec ban on private health care was unconstitutional – but the ruling only applied to that province.
In the decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote: “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care.”
Except if you live in British Columbia, where long waiting lists are increasingly an acceptable part of the health-care landscape.