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

Staff member Lena Laitinen gives the wall at BoulderHouse a workout during a media tour on June 16. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
BoulderHouse raring to rock Langford

Popularity of bouldering continues to climb across Greater Victoria

The Sooke Potholes is a jewel in the community's crown. Transition Sooke hosts a town hall meeting on community growth on June 26. (Courtesy: Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke forum tackles community growth

To Grow or Not to Grow online town hall meeting set for June 26

General manager Lindsey Pomper says Sidney’s Star Cinema cannot wait welcome audiences when it reopens June 18, amid an easing of public health measures. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney’s Star Cinema raises curtain for the first time after months in the darkness

Iconic theatre to reopen at half capacity for Friday night showing

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.’s Indigenous language, art and culture

North Saanich advisor says initiative supports urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A dogs in parks pilot study unanimously approved by Saanich council will evaluate how park space can best be shared between dog owners and non-owners alike. (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Saanich to study park-sharing strategy between those with and without pets

District-wide People, Parks and Dogs study to produce recommendations by fall

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says re-opening B.C.’s border to the U.S. ‘is not in our best interest’ right now. (B.C. Government photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (B.C. Government photo)
B.C. records 113 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 4 deaths

Vaccination of young people rising quickly, near 75 per cent

Most Read