Saturday, September 12, 2009

The BC Supreme Court to rule on the future of Public Healthcare in Canada

A pair of legal cases coming soon to the B.C. Supreme Court may greatly change the way health care is delivered in the province and across Canada.

Disgruntled former patients who say the province's for-profit clinics are regularly breaking the law on extra billing went to court last December demanding the government properly enforce the Medicare Protection Act and end the alleged extra billing by private sector clinics.

Meanwhile, in January, a group of these same clinics launched a court action against some of the government players targeted in the patients' litigation. This second action, brought by, among others, Vancouver's Cambie Surgeries Corporation and the for-profit clinic umbrella group the Canadian Independent Medical Clinics Association, is arguing that the law that underlies the delivery of health services in B.C. is unconstitutional.

They are calling on the Supreme Court of B.C. to rule that provisions of the Medicare Protection Act of 1996, which they claim "directly or indirectly prohibit or impede access to private health care and patient choice in primary health care," are in violation of sections 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights.

The clinics also call on the courts to stop the B.C. Government from auditing the books of Vancouver's Cambie Surgeries Corporation and the Specialist Referral Clinic. (The Specialist Referral Clinic has been added as a Defendant by Counterclaim to the case as it has evolved this year). The audit is intended to determine whether those companies, both partly owned by privatization advocate Dr. Brian Day, have been involved, as alleged, in illegal extra billing.

And one of the most important points, about why this case of double dipping, wealthy queue jumping and public system poaching is a threat to the health of all Canadians:

Dr. Randall White of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare, a group that has applied to be an intervenor in the case between Mariel Schooff and the other unhappy ex-patients and the MSC and the clinics, doesn't see the privatization option favored by Day and his clinic associates as a useful one or one likely to improve Canadian health care delivery. In an email interview with The Tyee, White wrote:

"If Canada opens the doors to commercial health-care delivery and insurance, we can expect NAFTA challenges that could well dismantle our publicly funded, non-profit system... The cost of commercial health care is high. Many studies have found higher costs attributable to ubiquitous elements of for-profit insurance and hospitals such as administrative activities, marketing, profit generation, and executive pay. When it comes to health care, the assertion that markets are most efficient is absolutely false. The U.S. is the most market-driven industrialized health system and also the least efficient. Canadians could expect greater cost inflation with the advent of market-driven health care."

These will be court decisions to either celebrate as the rescue of Canada's medical system or to mourn as the beginning of its end.

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