Ontario’s controversial plan to expand private provision of public health care raises “legitimate concerns” that diverting millions of taxpayer dollars to for-profit clinics could erode equitable access to public health services, says minister of health Federal Health, Jean-Yves Duclos.
Speaking to reporters in Prince Edward Island on Tuesday, Duclos said Ottawa has no intention of “micromanaging” provincial and territorial hospitals and health systems and that he believes all health ministers across the country want to uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act.
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However, he says discussions are needed to ensure that moving more public health services to the private sector does not undermine the right that all Canadians have to equal access to health care, which is enshrined in that federal legislation.
“There needs to be a discussion about whether investment in private healthcare provision weakens public provision of public healthcare, and that is an important discussion,” Duclos said.
The federal health minister was reacting to a three-step plan announced Monday by Doug Ford’s government to spend millions to move more health procedures to private clinics in Ontario as a way to address long waiting lists.
Initially, the initiative will see simple, non-invasive procedures handled by some 900 private diagnostic and surgical clinics currently operating in Ontario. Future steps in the plan will see hip and knee replacements delivered to for-profit clinics as well.
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This move alone could provide a windfall of more than $500 million annually to private health clinics, according to figures from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research showing that Ontario performs approximately 32,000 knee replacements and 25,000 joint replacements. hip each year, at an average cost of between $8,000 and $10,000 per procedure.
Ford stressed that all surgeries and tests will be paid for by the taxpayer-funded Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and that no one will be paying for these procedures with their credit cards.
Ontario’s plan follows initiatives that have been or are being enacted in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick, where some public health services are provided by private but provincially funded clinics or operators.
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Duclos acknowledged Tuesday that urgent action is needed to alleviate significant pressures on Canada’s health systems due to staff shortages and long waiting lists for care, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
But he says part of his role as federal health minister is to uphold the Canada Health Act, which includes principles that all Canadians must have equal access to health care services and that medically necessary care must be provided based on of necessity, not of a person’s capacity. to pay.
“Obviously, there are discussions about whether the measures that were announced (Monday) in Ontario and similar measures that can and have been implemented elsewhere in Canada, (if) these measures will continue to ensure equitable access.” Duclos said.
“These are legitimate concerns that people are expressing.”
Duclos added that these concerns extend to the question of whether privatizing health care delivery “could weaken the public system and if that were to happen, it would actually create problems of equitable access to health care services in this country.”
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Health care critics and advocates argue that the Ontario plan is a not-so-stealthy step toward privatizing health care and worry that, along with other similar initiatives across the country, it could divert nurses and others specialists from public hospitals that are already chronically understaffed. .
“Health care for profit is never the answer. Doctors and nurses know this,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in a tweet on Monday.
“Will the prime minister stand up for public health care or let Doug Ford cannibalize the system and hand over taxpayers’ money to speculators?”
Five major Ontario health care unions on Monday issued a joint statement opposing Ontario’s plan, saying they believe patients will wait even longer for care under the proposed plan after frontline public staff are lured into private clinics. , where companies often pay them more. primary responsibility is to its shareholders.
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“Instead of diverting funds away from public hospital care to privatized clinics, the government should invest in our precious public health care system, implement a substantive staff retention program at public hospitals, and fund its hospitals. at least at the rate of average Canadian hospitals to cope with population growth, aging and inflationary pressures,” the unions said in a joint statement Monday.
While Duclos acknowledged these concerns Tuesday, he stopped short of saying whether he thought it was appropriate for taxpayer dollars to be used to fund for-profit clinics.
In the meantime, he said he has been working closely with provincial and territorial health ministers on a deal to increase Canada’s Health Transfer in exchange for more “tangible results” from the provinces in a number of key areas.
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Those areas include: better access to family doctors; reduce delays in diagnoses and surgeries; enhanced retention programs for health care personnel; more funding for mental health; and provide more access to shared health data.
Ottawa’s attempts to reach a deal with the provinces come amid ongoing demands from the 13 provincial and territorial premiers to increase healthcare funding without strings attached.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that “positive steps forward” on a healthcare deal would be announced “in the very near future,” but on Tuesday, Duclos threw cold water on the idea that such a deal was nearing completion. .
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“There is still a lot of work to be done before we can agree on the importance of those results and how we are going to achieve them in the coming weeks,” Duclos said.
“We all hope for a final agreement at some point, but we are all very aware that there is still a lot of work to be done before we get there.”
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