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Halt For-Profit Clinics: UBCM Resolution

BC municipalities to ponder denouncing 'private, for-profit surgical and MRI/CT facilities.'

Tom Sandborn 29 Sep 2009TheTyee.ca

Tom Sandborn is a Tyee contributing editor with a focus on health policy and labour.

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Moratorium proposed on private medical scanning clinics.

Delegates to this week's annual meeting of the Union of British Columbian Municipalities will debate a resolution calling on the province to declare a moratorium on any further development of for-profit surgical, MRI or CT scan clinics in B.C.

The resolution, proposed by Victoria and New Westminster city councils, also calls on the province to "end public funding of for-profit clinics, including the contracting-out of day surgeries and the provision of Health Authority contracts to for-profit clinics."

If passed, the resolution would put the UBCM, which includes 189 municipal and regional governments in B.C., on record as supporting the expansion of publicly funded and administered outpatient facilities to replace work currently being done by the controversial free enterprise medical facilities.

Pushing back against cuts

Victoria city councilor Sonya Chandler told The Tyee the resolution was inspired by arguments presented by the BC Health Coalition, a pro-public-healthcare lobby group.

The resolution comes at moment when B.C. health authorities reportedly are scrambling to earmark deep service cuts to deal with expected budget shortfalls.

Two Vancouver city councilors who will attend the UBCM told The Tyee that they plan on backing the proposal against for-profit clinics.

"I'll be at the mike to support this resolution," COPE councilor Ellen Woodsworth said.

Vancouver Vision party councilor Kerry Jang said he also would be supporting a moratorium on for profit clinics.

"Here's why," said Jang, who sits on the UBCM executive and its Healthy Communities committee. "In Vancouver, we have a health care crisis, with a large homeless population and large low income population. These citizens need quality health care and for-profit clinics won't help them."

Jang teaches at the UBC school of medicine. As a result of that experience, he said, "I am concerned that more for-profit clinics will lure new physicians out of the public system, where they are needed."

For-profit clinics doubled since 2004

The resolution says that the number of for-profit clinics in B.C. has doubled in the last five years, and that these clinics are operating "in breach of the Canada Health Act's criteria requiring universality and accessibility by charging patients privately for medically necessary and MSP insured hospital or physician services."

That trend has led to a legal case on health care delivery that may set important precedents when adjudicated this fall. As The Tyee has reported, the B.C. Supreme Court is going to be hearing charges about illegal billing at the province's private clinics this fall when it considers a legal action launched by former patients who claim that private clinics and doctors billed both the patients and the Medical Services Plan for the same procedures, breaking the Medicare Protection Act, which prohibits such "extra billing."

The patients' case, initiated by the B.C. Nurses Union, may be decided this fall in tandem with an action being brought by some of the province's private clinics.

The clinic action, filed a month after the patients' case, calls on the court to rule that provisions of the act that prohibit extra billing and restrict the role of private insurance in B.C. health care conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Victoria's mayor said to support resolution

Chandler told The Tyee that several Victoria delegates to the UBCM, including the city's mayor Dean Fortin, are preparing to speak in favor of the anti-private clinic resolution. She said she was cautiously hopeful about the resolution's prospects for success.

"I am a [registered nurse] myself, and one of the reasons I went into government was to try to protect the public health care system. We all need to stand up and protect this system. This resolution passed Victoria council with a resounding majority, and I hope the UBCM passes it too," she said.

She said the public system needs not just more money but a philosophical shift to focus more on preventative medicine and less on acute care. The need for change in the current system, she said, creates a danger the private system will "ride in like a hero" and be seen as the solution to the problem.

The resolution says the UBCM should "continue to research and monitor the threat to universal public health care posed by the operations of private, for-profit surgical and MRI/CT facilities in its members' communities."  [Tyee]

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