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Mobilize for public health care at B.C. Supreme Court hearing on Sept. 6

Help fill this space on Tuesday!

The Council of Canadians is mobilizing both outside and inside a Vancouver court room on Tuesday (September 6) for the start of what could be six-months of hearings on a lawsuit that has major implications for the future of our public health care system.

Dr. Brian Day launched the lawsuit in July 2012, but now, after many delays, the case will be heard. His claim is that British Columbia’s ban on the purchase of private insurance for medically necessary services that are already covered by the public system is a violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He contends that our public health care system is infringing on a person’s security, right to life and liberty when there is a wait time. Day argues that if you have the money, you should have the right to buy your way to the front of the line.

The National Post reports, “The case could effectively end the equal access that is at the heart of the country’s health-care system, critics warn. …Defenders of the medicare system not surprisingly reject Day’s talk of rights and injustices, saying evidence shows that freeing up a private system — even if it worked hand-in-hand with the public one as he proposes — would only make it tougher for the poor to access care, and vacuum resources from the public side.”

An expert report commissioned by the federal government for this court case agrees with our concerns.

CBC notes, “The report, which was obtained by CBC News, lists many potential negative consequences if there were to be more access to private health care in Canada, including greater income inequality, more people in dire financial straits, and even doctors encouraging longer wait times in the public system in order to nudge patients into the private system.”

That article highlights, “John Frank, a Canadian physician who is now chairman of public health research and policy at the University of Edinburgh, argues in his report that more private health care ‘would be expected to adversely affect Canadian society as a whole.’ He cites research that suggests public resources, including highly trained nurses and doctors, would be siphoned off by the private system. More Canadians would face financial hardship or even — in extreme cases — ‘medical bankruptcy’ from paying for private care, he writes. Frank even suggests there could be deadly consequences. He says complications from privately funded surgeries often need to be dealt with in the public system because private facilities are generally less equipped to handle complex cases.”

The Globe and Mail comments, “The case promises to reignite a debate whose last major legal test occurred in 2005, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a Quebec ban on private health care was unconstitutional.” In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Quebec’s ban on private health care was unconstitutional under the Quebec Charter of Rights because the public system had failed to guarantee patients access to services in a timely way.

We expressed our concerns at that time too that two-tiered health care heavily burdens the public system.

And we have highlighted that there are public solutions to wait times. The Wait Times Alliance has argued, “Excessive wait times are not the price Canadians must pay for universal health care, despite what some would have us believe. Long wait times are a symptom of poor systemic performance or poor coordination between systems. …Governments, regional health authorities and hospital administrators along with health care providers should implement strategies to make better use of surgical infrastructure (both physical and health human resources), such as making better use of untapped health infrastructure in community hospitals and rural areas.”

The message we will be bringing to the courtroom on Tuesday is that people should have access to medical care based on need, not on ability to pay.

In February 2013, we began blogging on this lawsuit. In September 2014, we participated in coordinated media conferences in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax to express concern when the BC government was seeking an out of court settlement with Day. We have even encouraged our donors to help pay for the legal representation needed by our allies and interveners in this case, the British Columbia Health Coalition and Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

Now we are asking people to join us outside the B.C. Supreme Court and inside for the hearing to show your support for public health care.

Tuesday, September 6 at 9:00 a.m.

B.C. Supreme Court, Vancouver, Corner of Nelson & Hornby