18 Jun Statement on NS College of Physicians’ Move to Regulate Private Health Care

Published in the Chronicle Herald June 18, 2014

At their recent annual general meeting, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia announced that they are getting ready for the privatization of health care. They will look at ways to regulate private health care as part of their strategic two year plan.

This is a mistake and one that will put patients at risk. The College has a key role to play in setting the quality of care. They are the regulating body for all physicians and surgeons in their province. Part of the College’s mandate is to ensure the highest standards of care in all of its members’ practices. There is no way to do that with for-profit medicine.

Decades of research have shown that private health care is less safe than public. Whether its private hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes, private care cuts corners to maximize profit, at any cost. Recent studies at McMaster University have demonstrated that patients are more likely to die in for-profit hospitals.  Since the National Health Service opened up to privatization, it has led to a huge increase in infant mortality in the UK. Here in Nova Scotia, we often hear from residents in private long term care homes about policies for staff to weigh diapers to make sure they are as full as possible before changing them.

There is no way to regulate private health care to be as safe as public. No matter where you look, private health care delivers worse health outcomes. By regulating, the College will give its stamp of approval to substandard care. Nor will regulation prevent private health care from draining public resources and ‘cherry-picking’ patients who are healthy, wealthy and young.  Regulation of private health care in other jurisdictions has proven costly and less than effective. The United States has the highest regulated private health sector out of the OECD countries, spending over $169 billion per year. Yet, it stills reports hundreds of billions of dollars lost to health fraud and abuse. The United Kingdom and Australia have also experimented with regulation, but consistently report lower health outcomes in private for profit clinics and hospitals, not to mention extra-billing.

Even within Canada, in British Columbia, regulation hasn’t worked. The College is looking to model its own policies after BC, yet the province has struggled to regulate private providers. The province is now embroiled in lengthy lawsuits against private clinics for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraud.

The safest and most cost-efficient health care is delivered by non-profit and publically funded providers. Trying to regulate for-profit medicine is both costly and ineffective. The College of Physicians and Surgeons needs to turn away from private health care completely and uphold the highest standards of care for patients. The College, its doctors, and all Nova Scotians should settle for nothing less.