28 Oct Newspaper Column – Public Medicare Being Eroded

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Public medicare being eroded

Printed in the Chronicle Herald on Saturday, October 25th


Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network, along with other health coalitions across the country, launched a ground-breaking new report entitled “Eroding Public Medicare: Lessons and Consequences of For-Profit Health Care Across Canada.” The report was written by Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition, and can be viewed on our website at www.nshealthcoalition.ca.

The report was the result of over a year of research and is 169 pages long. Our goal was to document every private, for-profit diagnostic, surgical and “boutique” clinic in the country. Our researchers spoke directly with staff at the private, for-profit clinics, and where possible we have used their words and advertisements to highlight the extent of privatization. We conducted many interviews and called some clinics back to confirm our findings.

The results were shocking.

We found evidence of more than 130 private, for-profit health clinics across the country, including at least 42 MRI/CT scan clinics, 72 for-profit surgical clinics, and 16 “boutique” clinics catering to the wealthiest of Canadians. We also found evidence of 89 suspected violations of the Canada Health Act across five provinces, including at least one in Nova Scotia.

We found evidence that the private, for-profit health care clinics are hurting the public system. Staff from the public system are being poached and taken into the private system, including a case here in Nova Scotia. This drain of health human resources threatens the long-term viability of the public health care system.

Research also indicated that cities with a higher density of private, for-profit health care clinics have longer wait times. Statistics Canada lists Montreal as the city in which it is most difficult to get a family doctor.

Interestingly, Montreal also has possibly the highest concentration of “boutique” clinics in the country. These are clinics that sell preferential access to general practitioners and specialists for a fee and, based on a legal opinion, we suspect this violates the Canada Health Act.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we found that the costs of private health care are out of reach for the vast majority of Canadians. Almost everywhere in Canada, the median income is below $30,000 (it is only $22,800 in Nova Scotia), yet private, for-profit clinics charge upwards of $13,000 to $20,000 for knee surgery, or $600 to $1,200 for an MRI, or upwards of $2,000 for cataract surgery. Most Canadians cannot include these expenses in their household budget. These prices are well out of reach for the majority of us.

Our report’s findings shocked us because never in our worst dreams could we have imagined how deep the privatization of the health care system has become.

The provincial and federal governments already have the power under the Canada Health Act, and other pieces of legislations, to stop the growth of for-profit health care and protect, strengthen and extend the public health care system to ensure all Canadians have access to care based on need, not their ability to pay.

Today, we are again calling on the government of Nova Scotia to stop the growth of private, for-profit health care.

Our politicians say they are committed to strengthening the public health care system but their actions speak otherwise. When will they move to bring existing private, for-profit clinics into the public system and stop the rise of any new clinics in the future?

Kyle Buott is co-ordinator, Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network.