Universal health care under attack

Court case has critical implications for public health care

A British Columbia court case challenging the very foundations of public health care could undermine the comprehensiveness and fairness of Canadian Medicare and erode the competitive advantage it provides to B.C. businesses.

Dr. Brian Day, owner of two for-profit clinics in Vancouver, was scheduled to start the next phase of his controversial case on Sept. 8 in British Columbia Supreme Court, but was recently granted a six-month delay until March 2015.

The case has been called the most significant constitutional challenge in Canadian history, as it seeks to introduce two-tier health care into this country.

The court challenge is likely to go as far as the Supreme Court of Canada, but what happens in B.C. will be crucial.

Canada’s system of public health care – anchored by single-payer, universal health insurance – ensures that access to care is comprehensive and based on need, rather than on the ability to pay.

Because we all share the risks and the costs, it’s both efficient and fair.

Everybody is covered; everybody benefits.

However, Dr. Day has spent years testing the rules that protect universal health coverage.

A 2012 B.C. Liberal government audit revealed that Day’s clinics have been unlawfully extra-billing patients for medical services covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan.

In this legal case, Day is challenging the laws that prohibit doctors from charging patients extra for services already covered under provincial insurance plans.

He is also taking aim at B.C.’s ban on duplicate private health insurance.

Dr. Day is claiming that these rules violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If Day has his way, those who can afford to pay privately will jump the queue.

If that happens, private health insurers will expand into a lucrative new Canadian market.

Health-care advocates are concerned that this would lengthen wait times and wait lists.

Then, it is likely private clinics would compete to attract surgeons and other health professionals from the public system.

Private clinics ensure their profits by performing only a limited range of high-volume, low-cost procedures on healthy patients.

There’s also the potential of higher costs for B.C. businesses.

As it stands, our current system of single-payer health insurance provides these businesses a competitive advantage when compared to United States-based firms that are required to provide expensive (and often less comprehensive) private health insurance for their employees.

That is an advantage worth protecting.

That is not to say that our current public health-care system is perfect.

There is a lot of room for improvement, especially in areas, such as seniors’ care and prescription drug coverage.

However, Canada’s universal public health-care system is widely supported by the public and for good reason.

This ongoing legal case being prosecuted against public health care is a stark reminder that no one should take our universal public health care for granted.

Bonnie Pearson is the Hospital Employees’ Union’s secretary-business manager.