Debate over private healthcare in B.C. heads to court next week

Debate over private healthcare in B.C. heads to court next week

Challenge from Dr. Brian Day of the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver to finally be heard

A self-styled champion of privatized health care is bringing his fight to B.C. Supreme Court next week for the start of a months-long trial he says is about patients’ access to affordable treatment, while his opponents accuse him of trying to gut the core of Canada’s medical system.

Dr. Brian Day of Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver is challenging B.C.’s ban on the purchase of private insurance for medically necessary services that are already covered by the public system. He argues the restriction violates patients’ constitutional rights by forcing them to endure gruelling wait times that often exacerbate their health problems.

“This is about making medicare better,” said Day.

A statement from the B.C. Health Ministry, the defendant in the case, said its priority is to uphold the Medicare Protection Act and the benefits it safeguards. It declined further comment while the case is before the courts.

Hearing finally set to begin after six years

Day launched the lawsuit in 2010. There have been a number of delays, including a one-year postponement while the two sides unsuccessfully tried to reach an out-of-court settlement.

Canada’s inefficient system is the product of a wasteful bureaucracy, a lack of competition and a misguided attachment to universal coverage, Day argues.

He said opening the door for private insurance would ease pressure on the public system, freeing up resources to cut wait times and boost the quality of care for everyone, whether publicly or privately insured.

It’s widely agreed the lawsuit could have far-reaching ramifications for health care in Canada.

Adam Lynes-Ford of the B.C. Health Coalition, one of the interveners in the case, said making space for private health care flies in the face of the core Canadian value that people should have access to medical care based on need, not on ability to pay.

“This is such a profound threat to the health of everybody in Canada,” Lynes-Ford said.

He said a win for Day would lead to a more U.S.-style medical system, meaning longer wait times for the average Canadian and skyrocketing costs as limits are lifted on what doctors can charge patients.

‘Medicare is being put on trial’

Colleen Flood, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, described Day’s lawsuit as one of the biggest constitutional cases “perhaps ever.”

“Basically, medicare is being put on trial, and will likely be found wanting in many regards,” she said.

“But the question is whether the cure for what ails medicare is more privatization. That’s what Dr. Day is arguing,” she added. “I don’t think so myself and I think the weight of the evidence is against that.”

Court battles over private health insurance aren’t new to Canada. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada granted Quebecers access to private insurance when it ruled that excessive wait times infringed on patients’ constitutional rights.

While that decision was argued under the Quebec charter and as a result didn’t extend beyond that province’s boundaries, a judgment in Day’s case would make waves across the country.

Yanick Labrie, an economist affiliated with the Canadian Health Policy Institute and the Fraser Institute, said Day’s case boils down to a patient’s right to choose.

Greater choice among insurance providers would encourage more competition, which would boost efficiency and improve access, Labrie said.

“We should still expect to have a universal system, but in which you have some element of competition and choice for patients,” he said, adding that a win for Day and the introduction of a hybrid health-care model would be a “revolution.”

Problems with introducing regulation, professor argues

But Karen Palmer of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences said attempts at introducing and enforcing a proper regulatory framework elsewhere in the world around a public-private system have been challenging.

“It’s a bit like that game whack-a-mole,” said Palmer, who is also affiliated with the Evidence Network of Canadian Health Policy. “Every time you make a regulation, somebody finds a way around it and it becomes a game.”

She derided the suggestion that privatization would address the underlying challenges facing medicare, calling it a flawed attempt to fix the wrong problem.

“If their constitutional challenge is successful, the door will swing wide open in British Columbia and across Canada for insurers to sell what will amount to private queue-jumping insurance for those who can afford it, potentially harming the rest of us,” Palmer said.

But even a victory for the province should serve as “a huge wake-up call to government decision-makers that we dodged a bullet” and urgently need to improve how care is delivered, she said.

The federal government has also applied to be an intervener in the case, arguing that any challenge to a principle so fundamental to the Canadian health-care system is of significant concern.

“Canadians overwhelmingly support universally accessible health care,” government spokeswoman Rebecca Gilman wrote in an emailed statement.

Gilman reaffirmed the government’s commitment to Canadians having reasonable access to medically necessary services based on need and not ability or willingness to pay.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

Vanessa Dueck.
Snapshots of a Chilliwack father from his loving daughter

Father’s Day memories of special moments shared together

Rachel is a six month old Labrador retriever cross who was found at large. She is seen here at the Chilliwack SPCA on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Rachel at the Chilliwack SPCA

6-month-old puppy found at large, now at Chilliwack SPCA, needs special home

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Volunteers will gather at South Gate Shopping Centre on Fathers Day before fanning out to help clean up downtown Chilliwack. (Facebook photo)
Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association organizes Fathers Day cleanup

Volunteers will spend 90 minutes fanning out to gather trash in downtown Chilliwack

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read