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Council of Canadians supports action against Quebec extra-billing law

The Council of Canadians supports Réseau FADOQ, along with Quebec and national health care advocates in Montreal today as they demand the federal government fulfill their responsibility and enforce the Canadian Health Act (CHA)

Article 3 of the CHA states: “It is hereby declared that the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.” Further, article 18 specifies that a province or territory is not entitled to full compensation for extra-billing, article 20 which sets out that extra billed fees will be deducted dollar for dollar from the federal contribution.

The Quebec National Assembly approved Bill 20 which is an omnibus bill that enables physicians to charge extra fees (with no established limits) to their patients for services already insured under public medicare. Instead of coming down against extra-billing, which has been tolerated for too long, Minister Gaétan Barrette worked to normalize the practice instead.

Sadly, in Quebec it is now common to pay over $500 for anesthesia when having a colonoscopy or $80, for eye drops, during the treatment of macular degeneration. While this is prohibited under the CHA, the Quebec government has passed legislation which allows for this extra-billing.  These barriers to accessing healthcare infringe on the core principle of our medicare system, everyone should have the right to access health care based on need and not the ability to pay.

Yesterday, Jean-Pierre Ménard , the lawyer for the plaintiffs (Réseau FADOQ)  filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Federal Court of Canada. It asks the court to order the public authority (the Minister of Health for Canada, Jane Philpott) to perform the duty required by law to apply the CHA to counter Quebec’s Bill 20.

Quebec is one of the provinces at the forefront of the erosion of our universal public health care system who are allowing patients to be charged for services that are covered by the public system. In a press release from Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Dr. Brian Hutchison states, “Extra billing and user fees are, in fact, barriers to health care. When doctors begin charging auxiliary fees, it creates a two-tier health care system: one for those who can afford it and one for those who cannot… Research shows that user fees are an impediment to care, especially for low income people who often don’t access care until they are so sick they can’t avoid it… This not only damages their quality of life, but leads to higher healthcare costs”

Lucie Levasseur, President of CUPE-Quebec and General Vice-President of CUPE highlighted, “Billing for medically required health care is a growing scandal. It is an attack on the dignity of the less fortunate and an attack on the very foundations of our public health care system. It is high time for the Couillard Government to be put in its place on this issue.”

The Canadian Health Coaltion states that, “In the past 10 years there has been very little monitoring of the CHA. While there are gross violations happening across Canada — such as the extra-billing of patients in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario — the federal government has turned a blind eye.” 

This is believed to be the first time a civil society group has asked the Federal Court to compel the federal government to apply the Canadian Health Act, their own law.  Council of Canadians National Health Campaigner, Michael Butler, has highlighted that, “It shouldn’t be necessary for the civil society to demand their government start enforcing the CHA and stop turning a blind eye to two-tier US style health care.  There doesn’t seem to be much ‘real change’, but just a continuation of the Harper government’s policies in this regard. The Council of Canadians supports FADOQ as it defends the public’s interest and the right to healthcare.”