Are you ready to pull out your credit card the next time you need a hip replacement or cataract surgery? Because that’s what will happen if the Ford government’s privatization plan for dealing with the surgical backlogs goes forward.
On Monday, Ford unveiled his intention to hand over responsibility for cataract, hip, knee and other “non-serious” surgeries to private, for-profit clinics outside the public health care system. Under the plan, half of all surgeries in Ontario will be performed outside of the public system, siphoning resources and staff at a time when a historic re-investment is urgently needed. The Ontario Health Coalition calls this privatization effort a “fatal threat” to our public health care system.
Ford insists that Ontarians will continue to pay for these surgeries “with their OHIP cards, not their credit cards.” But journalists and health care campaigners have shown that the province’s 13 private clinics routinely charge patients hundreds or even thousands of dollars extra for OHIP-covered procedures and upsell patients on unnecessary, uninsured procedures. In December 2021, the Auditor-General criticized the Ford government for failing to take action to safeguard patients from manipulative salesmanship by private surgical clinics. Ford’s plan will massively expand this two-tiered health care system in which those who can afford it will jump the queue.
And where does Ford think the surgeons, nurses and other personnel to staff these expanded for-profit clinics will come from? Are we to believe that the private sector has a magic wand that can somehow make the staffing crisis disappear? Doctors, nurses and other health care workers have pointed out that Ford’s privatization plan will only make existing problems worse, diverting staff to the private sector and increasing wait times for more urgent hospital-based care in the public system.
Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones have barrelled forward with their plan to expand the privatization of clinics and hospitals, despite warnings from health care professionals. The push for privatization is driven by powerful private sector interests that have been intensively lobbying to access the $600 million “market” that these surgeries represent. Some of the private clinics that stand to benefit the most are major political donors to Ford’s Progressive Conservative party, as PressProgress has revealed.
Ford’s announcement makes public what his government’s intention has been all along: to defund public health care, let services deteriorate to a critical level, and introduce privatization as a solution. The Ford government is sitting on over $2 billion in budget surplus, yet it has frozen funding to public health and continues to try to depress health care workers’ wages through Bill 124, which was recently ruled unconstitutional.
Ford has intentionally let the health care crisis fester, in the hope that people will throw up their hands and accept privatization as the only solution. But so far, it’s not working. A strong majority of Ontarians (57%) remain opposed to privatization, saying expanding the role of for-profit operators will only make things worse(and they are right). Ford has no mandate for his lobbyist-driven plan to privatize routine surgeries, having promised repeatedly not to privatize health care prior to the June 2022 elections.
We can stop this latest profit-driven effort to privatize health care in Ontario and fix the crisis in our public hospitals. As the education workers’ strike showed, if we take bold action to demand the Ontario government put care before profit, we can get Ford to back down.
The Ford government must:
- massively reinvest in our public health care,
- abolish Bill 124 and improve working conditions,
- increase staffing levels for nurses and other frontline workers,
- and collaborate with the federal government to establish long-term solutions, such as national pharmacare.
We are working alongside the Ontario Health Coalition to mount a pushback against health care privatization. We hope you will support us.