Friday, May 26, 2023
Time to end violations of Canada Health Act with illegal fees for service
If you’re covered by OHIP, all medically necessary hospital and physician services must be provided without extra user charges.
By Natalie Mehra
Last month, a friend was told by his doctor it would take a year to have a colonoscopy performed in his local hospital. (A highly dubious claim.) Then, he was told he could have it done in the same physician’s private clinic faster … if he pays $75.
That is an outright violation of the Canada Health Act.
A Toronto woman wrote on May 7: “I just had cataract surgery at a private clinic. I was not warned until I got to the doctor’s office that it would cost me just under $2,000. I asked the referring ophthalmologist why I was charged so much. She said I could have asked to waive the fees. But I was not offered that by the doctor who performed the cataract surgery.”
Last week, a man in Southwestern Ontario told me he has to pay for laser cataract surgery because it isn’t covered by OHIP. (It is.)
When Premier Doug Ford announced plans to expand private clinics, he promised patients would never have to pay with their credit card. Yet, existing private clinics in Ontario, already force — or manipulate — patients into paying outrageous extra costs. And the clinics are extra-billing with impunity.
The Ford government used its majority to pass Bill 60 earlier this month. This new law expressly enables the transfer of surgeries and diagnostics from public hospitals to for-profit clinics. It puts foundational principles of our public health system — that people get care based on need, not wealth — in real and urgent danger.
Patients need to know two things: First, patients have a “Bill of Rights” under the Canada Health Act. If you’re covered by OHIP, all medically necessary hospital and physician services — including cataract surgeries, colonoscopies and MRIs — must be provided without extra user charges, whether in a public hospital or private clinic.
To be clear: No amount can be charged to a patient for medically necessary lenses and eye tests, nor for the premises, equipment or personnel.
Second, private clinics generate profit from “upselling” to patients — pushing a dizzying array of add-ons that are medically unnecessary.
Bill 60 does not ban this practice. Shockingly, it actually invites the new private clinics to lay out their plans for upselling to the government. If they are not stopped, can anyone doubt it’s only a matter of time until we’re being manipulated into paying thousands of dollars for “extra-special” joint replacements and more?
What is most appalling is that this privatization puts our public health care at risk for no reason. We categorically do not need private clinics to cut surgical wait times. Virtually every public hospital has operating rooms that are closed evenings, overnight and on weekends. They should be funded and staffed to open to full capacity to clear backlogs.
Lest anyone believe we can’t afford it, Ontario funds its hospitals at the lowest rate in Canada.
Our public hospitals have been developed over a hundred years. Communities built hospitals to care for victims of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-20. Veteran’s memorial hospitals were built after the world wars. Over generations, Ontarians volunteered, fundraised and built our hospitals. They are ours: our public assets, our inheritance, our legacy.
With no democratic mandate whatsoever, sixty-eight MPPs voted to pass Bill 60, privatizing the core of our public hospitals.
In response, the Ontario Health Coalition is organizing a massive volunteer-run referendum. More than 150,000 people have already voted online and in advance polls. Community votes across Ontario will be held outside local businesses and public spaces on Friday and Saturday.
When governments take away our democracy and threaten what is ours, we have to find ways to empower people to have their voices heard. And, if we speak in large enough numbers, the Ford government will ultimately have to listen.
Natalie Mehra is executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition