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Waiting for outcome of for-profit doctor’s case against medicare

Members of the Council of Canadians Vancouver/Burnaby Chapter were on courthouse steps with signs of support on the first day of final arguments in the Charter of Rights challenge launched by Dr. Brian Day against public medicare.

Final arguments got underway in mid-November and conclude this week in a decade-old Charter challenge against public health care. Launched by private clinic owner Dr. Brian Day, the case is seen as a direct threat to Canada’s publicly funded medicare system.

The case pits Dr. Day, owner of the private Cambie Surgeries Corp. – which allows people to pay for access to surgeries – against the British Columbia government.

An audit of the surgery clinic’s billing revealed that fees were being charged to both the public medicare system as well as directly to patients. When the province finally clamped down on the clinic for double-dipping, Dr. Day launched this Charter challenge.

According to the CBC, “the case has drawn a fierce defence from those who warn a parallel public-private system would only benefit the wealthy and expanding private insurance would disproportionately impact patients who aren’t considered ‘profitable.’”

The BC Health Coalition, BC Nurses Union and Canadian Doctors for Medicare are all intevenors in the case. They and others argue that if Dr. Day is successful with his arguments, the doors to private health care will be swung wide open – not just in B.C., but across Canada.

In a statement to the court, they stated, “the Coalition Intervenors are here to advocate for all of those British Columbians who rely on the public system, and whose right to equitable access to health care without regard to financial means or ability to pay ‑ the very object of the legislation being attacked – would be undermined if the plaintiffs were to succeed.”

According to the Canadian Health Coalition (CHC), Dr. Day is arguing that “the laws that protect public health care in British Columbia are denying patients their right to life, liberty and security of person under Section 7 of the Charter.” The coalition says Day “claims the case is about addressing wait times, but really it’s about increasing profits.”

“The defendants and the intervenors have shown that a two-tier health care system costs more and it only benefits the wealthy. Private, for-profit health care damages the delivery of public health care and it doesn’t solve the wait time issue,” said Melanie Benard of the CHC.

“Effective solutions exist to address wait times within the public system,” she added. It is crucial to all Canadians that we protect our public system so that health care continues to be provided based on people’s needs and not on their ability to pay.”

A final decision on the case is expected from the court early in 2020.

The Council of Canadians supports and defends public health care delivered under the principles of the Canada Health Act. Allowing private, for-profit clinics like Dr. Day’s allows people who can afford it to jump the queue. Studies have shown that a mix of private and public systems lengthens wait times in the public system as for-profit providers “cherry pick” their cases and removes doctors from the public system, lengthening wait times for those patients.