Feds applaud B.C. Supreme Court decision against private health care

Vancouver orthopaedic surgeon Brian Day

Opponents have said a two-tier system would favour patients who are wealthy enough to pay for "queue-jumping" private insurance as well as doctors who could bill both the public and private systems. It also stops private clinics from enacting extra patient charges and taking private insurance for necessary medical procedures.

"I think it's fair to say, in this 880-page judgement, the ruling emphasized the strength and the importance of public health care, which is a cornerstone of our identity in British Columbia, a cornerstone of our identity in all of Canada", Dix said. Justice Steeves dismissed the plaintiffs' claims, which aimed to unleash private health care by challenging key principles of the province's publicly-funded system. Day's Cambie Surgeries clinic and other plaintiffs asserted that the rules breach the Charter of Rights when the public system is backlogged with long wait lists, something they said is common. This decision ensures that access to health care will continue to be based on need and not on ability to pay.

However, Steeves ruled the sections of the Medicare Act being challenged are meant to protect the universal public health care system "that ensures access to necessary medical care is based on need, and not on an individual's ability to pay". The Canadian Constitution Foundation, a private registered charity that defends "the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians in the courts of law and public opinion", according to their website, announced in a statement on Thursday they are supporting the plaintiffs in Day's case with going forward with an appeal.

Dix said Thursday that a decision on fines will be made after a review of the lengthy ruling. If this chronic underfunding isn't rectified, more challenges will be brought against the Canada Health Act.

Day began his battle a decade ago against the B.C. government.

He opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996, saying he wanted to create more operating-room time for surgeons who couldn't get it in hospitals.

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The Chaoulli case, named after a Quebec doctor barred from setting up a private hospital, dealt exclusively with the province's ban on private health insurance, not the extra-billing question.

The case, filed in 2009, went to trial in B.C. Supreme Court in 2016. "I think the court has made a decision that's harmful to patients".

The society is now calling on the province to commit to patient wait time guarantees, and it's hoping the government will consult with front-line workers on how to improve waits for patients.

"It sets up perverse incentives for doctors", she said, noting physicians are free to opt out of the public system if they choose to practise in private clinics, but not do both.

The recent public health emergency caused by COVID-19 has underscored just how important our public health care system is.

The head of the Canadian Medical Association, which Day led in 2006, agreed with Steeves' ruling that patients should have timely and equitable access to care not based on how much money they have. This decision protects our ability to endure crises and care for one other into the future.

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