Canadian Medicare faces growing threats across the country. Many patients using private, for-profit clinics find themselves paying out of pocket for services covered by Medicare. Murial Schoof was required to pay more than $6,000 for sinus surgery at B.C.’s for-profit False Creek Surgery Centre. Court documents state that her physician also billed the public health system for the procedure. For five years, Murial tried to get the private clinic to reimburse her and the government to take action against the clinic without success.
The Federal Canada Health Act is the legal basis for our universal health system, but the Harper government is NOT enforcing Canada’s public health care law. Far from it. The Harper Conservatives are giving provinces the green light to go ahead and experiment with private, for-profit health care. Several provinces are taking him up on that by introducing for-profit hospitals and clinics. The result is patients faced with thousands of dollars in extra fees charged by doctors and surgeons for procedures that should be covered under the public health system.
The most outrageous example of illegal billing and suspected health care fraud has been documented at the Cambie surgical clinic in British Columbia. Cambie is the largest for-profit clinic in Canada. The B.C. government has taken the clinic to court for charging patients illegal fees for medically necessary procedures and double-billing the public health insurance plan.
If that’s not bad enough, Brian Day, the clinic’s owner, also required patients to sign a consent form which falsely informed patients that the services for which they were being charged were not covered under Medicare.
Canada’s national health plan was set up to ensure that patients could access medically necessary services based on need not wealth. The Canada Health Act is based on principles of fairness and equity. Provinces that allow private clinics to charge patients for needed care are supposed to face financial penalties. But the Harper government has done nothing to protect patients by not enforcing the Canada Health Act. In fact, Steven Harper was the head of an organization opposed to Medicare and the Canada Health Act prior to his election.
Harper’s finance minister has spoken openly about cutting federal funding to the provinces for health care when the next set of federal-provincial territorial negotiations come up in 2014. The future of Public Medicare in Canada depends on the federal government maintaining their part of the funding arrangements for health care and Harper’s plan would put this at serious risk. And steps towards a national public drug plan that would ensure affordable access to medications for Canadians across the country have been abandoned under the Harper government.
Michael McBane is the National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition. For more information visit www.healthcoalition.ca.