HUGHES: VIEW FROM THE HILL: Health Care Privatization Must Be Stopped
Canada’s esteemed public health system is feeling particularly strained right now. Hospitals are overcrowded, waiting lists for surgical procedures are long, emergency rooms have closed their doors due to wait times, and staffing levels are not keeping up with necessary demand, as Bernie Robinson, interim president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, recently noted in Alone in the province we are short of 25,000 nurses.
It is vital that the federal government stops dragging its feet in responding to provincial and territorial health care needs to ensure that publicly funded health care is able to meet the current burden deal with. This is an issue that has been under constant debate for over a year, as Premiers from across Canada have unequivocally called for the Prime Minister to sit down with them to negotiate a new deal for healthcare delivery. While there are some positive signs that a new health deal is in the works, concerns remain about the government’s failure to defend our public health system.
One of the main issues that has emerged from the health crisis our country is facing is the slow normalization of privatization of parts of our health care system in the name of “rationalization” of services, mainly by conservative prime ministers. Recently, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expanded the private delivery of public health care by funding private clinics to perform essential health services such as MRI and CT scans, colonoscopies, cataract surgery, and hip and knee replacements. a move opposed by five major Ontario healthcare unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario Nurses’ Association, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Service Employees International Union Healthcare and Unifor. In Alberta, Prime Minister Danielle Smith has floated the idea of a “Healthcare Expenditure Account,” but details on the proposal are limited at the moment. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson advised in her province’s throne speech in November that they would consider more private partnerships for health care delivery.
But these are not the only areas where health services are threatened by privatization. Maple, an Ontario-based company partially funded by Loblaws, offers people the ability to visit a family doctor virtually — for $69 per visit or for a $30 monthly usage fee. Typically, a company cannot charge for healthcare provided under OHIP or any other provincial health plan, as doing so would be in direct violation of Canadian Healthcare Act. However, they get around this by connecting clients to a GP or nurse outside of their home province, which isn’t covered by provincial insurance and therefore technically doesn’t violate Canadian Health Care Act. Health Canada has expressed “concern” about Maple, but they’re technically operating within the law. It’s a slow push toward two-tier healthcare when we allow companies like these to charge for access to basic healthcare services.
As discussions continue between the federal government and provincial counterparts over additional healthcare funding, we should expect some sort of deal on this front in the coming months that will give our ailing healthcare system a much-needed cash injection. But any deal should come with the clear caveat that privatizing health services is viewed as a false start. For-profit clinics can cannibalize nurses and other public health workers who are on the front lines of keeping our system running, but all too often are not adequately compensated for their work.
The federal government must ensure that they meet their health care obligations under the Canadian Health Care Act, and that includes adequate, stable provincial funding. What must not be allowed, however, is to leave the door open to the privatization of health services that pushes us further toward the Americanized pay-for-access system that all too often stretches people with impossible debt burdens to pay for health services , that they need. Funding must be there, but conditions must also be in place to ensure public health care is not slowly phased out.